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Full text of "Books and men"

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WES* 




LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. 

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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. 



BOOKS AND MEN 



BY 



AGNES REPPLIER 




BOSTON AND NEW YORK 

HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY 

fCfoe ttitoersi&e Press, £ambnDge 

1888 



75* HI 
-IB 6 



Copyright, 1888, 
By AGNES REPPLIER. 

All rights reserved. 



IZ-sKoxo 



The Riverside Press, Cambridge: 
Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Co. 



CONTENTS. 



PAGE 

Children, Past and Present 1 

On the Benefits of Superstition 33 

What Children Read 64 

The Decay of Sentiment 94 

Curiosities of Criticism 125 

Some Aspects of Pessimism 157 

The Cavalier 191 



/ 



BOOKS AND MEN". 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 

As a result of the modern tendency to de- 
sert the broad beaten roads of history for the 
bridle-paths of biography and memoir, we find 
a great many side lights thrown upon matters 
that the historian was wont to treat as alto- 
gether beneath his consideration. It is by their 
help that we study the minute changes of social 
life that little by little alter the whole aspect 
of a people, and it is by their help that we look 
straight into the ordinary every-day workings 
of the past, and measure the space between its 
existence and our own. When we read, for 
instance, of Lady Cathcart being kept a close 
prisoner by her husband for over twenty years, 
we look with some complacency on the roving 
wives of the nineteenth century. When we 
reflect on the dismal fate of Uriel Freuden- 
berger, condemned by the Canton of Uri to be 



2 BOOKS AND MEN 

burnt alive in 1760, for rashly proclaiming his 
disbelief in the legend of William Tell's apple, 
we realize the inconveniences attendant on a 
too early development of the critical faculty. 
We listen entranced while the learned pastor 
Dr. Johann Geiler von Keyersperg gravely 
enlightens his congregation as to the nature 
and properties of were-wolves ; and we turn 
aside to see the half-starved boys at West- 
minster boiling their own batter - pudding in 
a stocking foot, or to hear the little John 
Wesley crying softly when he is whipped, not 
being permitted even then the luxury of a 
hearty bellow. — 

Perhaps the last incident will strike us as 
the most pathetic of all, this being essentially 
the children's age. Women, workmen, and 
skeptics all have reason enough to be grate- 
ful they were not born a few generations ear- 
lier; but the children of to-day are favored 
beyond their knowledge, and certainly far 
beyond their deserts. Compare the modern 
schoolboy with any of his ill-fated predeces- 
sors, from the days of Spartan discipline down 
to our grandfathers' time. Turn from the 
free-and-easy school-girl of the period to the 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 3 

miseries of Mrs. Sherwood's youth, with its 
steel collars, its backboards, its submissive 
silence and rigorous decorum. Think of the 
turbulent and uproarious nurseries we all 
know, and then go back in spirit to that severe 
and occult shrine where Mrs. Wesley ruled 
over her infant brood with a code of discipli- 
nary laws as awful and inviolable as those of 
the Medes and Persians. Of their supreme 
efficacy she plainly felt no doubts, for she has 
left them carefully written down for the bene- 
fit of succeeding generations, though we fear 
that few mothers of to-day would be tempted 
by their stringent austerity. They are to 
modern nursery rules what the Blue Laws of 
Connecticut are to our more languid legisla- 
tion. Each child was expected and required 
to commemorate its fifth birthday by learning 
the entire alphabet by heart. To insure this 
all-important matter, the whole house was im- 
pressively set in order the day before ; every 
one's task was assigned to him ; and Mrs. 
Wesley, issuing strict commands that no one 
should penetrate into the sanctuary while the 
solemn ordeal was in process, shut herself up 
for six hours with the unhappy morsel of a 



4 BOOKS AND MEN. 

child, and unflinchingly drove the letters into 
its bewildered brain. On two occasions only 
was she unsuccessful. " Molly and Nancy," 
we are told, failed to learn in the given time, 
and their mother comforts herself for their 
tardiness by reflecting on the still greater in- 
capacity of other people's bairns. 

"When the will of a child is totally sub- 
dued, and it is brought to revere and stand in 
awe of its parents," then, and then only, their 
rigid judge considers that some little inadver- 
tences and follies may be safely passed over. 
Nor would she permit one of them to " be chid 
or beaten twice for the same fault," — a 
stately assumption of justice that speaks vol- 
umes for the iron-bound code by which they 
were brought into subjection. Most children 
nowadays are sufficiently amazed if a tardy 
vengeance overtake them once, and a second 
penalty for the same offense is something we 
should hardly deem it necessary to proscribe. 
Yet nothing is more evident than that Mrs. 
Wesley was neither a cruel nor an unloving 
mother. It is plain that she labored hard for 
her little flock, and had their welfare and hap- 
piness greatly at heart. In after years they 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 5 

with one accord honored and revered her mem- 
ory. Only it is not altogether surprising that 
her husband, whose ministerial functions she 
occasionally usurped, should have thought his 
wife at times almost too able a ruler, or that 
her more famous son should stand forth as the 
great champion of human depravity. He too, 
some forty years later, promulgated a system 
of education as unrelaxing in its methods as 
that of his own childhood. In his model 
school he forbade all association with outside 
boys, and would receive no child unless its par- 
ents promised not to take it away for even a 
single day, until removed for good. Yet after 
shutting up the lads in this hot-bed of pro- 
priety, and carefully guarding them from every 
breath of evil, he ended by expelling part as 
incorrigible, and ruefully admitting that the 
remainder were very " uncommonly wicked." 

The principle of solitary training for a child, 
in order to shield it effectually from all out- 
side influences, found other and vastly differ- 
ent advocates. It is the key-note of Mr. and 
Mi>s Edgeworth's Practical Education, a book 
which must have driven over-careful and scru- 
pulous mothers to the verge of desperation. 



6 BOOKS AND MEN. 

In it they are solemnly counseled never to per- 
mit their children to walk or talk with ser- 
vants, never to let them have a nursery or a 
school-room, never to leave them alone either 
with each other or with strangers, and never 
to allow them to read any book of which every 
sentence has not been previously examined. 
In the matter of books, it is indeed almost 
impossible to satisfy such searching critics. 
Even Mrs. Barbauld's highly correct and 
righteous little volumes, which Lamb has an- 
athematized as the " blights and blasts of all 
that is human," are not quite harmless in their 
eyes. Evil lurks behind the phrase " Charles 
wants his dinner," which would seem to imply 
that Charles must have whatever he desires ; 
while to say flippantly, " The sun has gone to 
bed," is to incur the awful odium of telling 
a child a deliberate untruth. 

In Miss Edgeworth's own stories the didactic 
purpose is only veiled by the sprightliness of 
the narrative and the air of amusing reality 
she never fails to impart. Who that has ever 
read them can forget Harry and Lucy making 
up their own little beds in the morning, and 
knocking down the unbaked bricks to prove 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 7 

that they were soft ; or Rosamond choosing 
between the famous purple jar and a pair of 
new boots ; or Laura forever drawing the fur- 
niture in perspective ? In all these little peo- 
ple say and do there is conveyed to the young 
reader a distinct moral lesson, which we are 
by no means inclined to reject, when we turn 
to the other writers of the time and see how 
much worse off we are. Day, in Sandford 
and Merton, holds up for our edification the 
dreariest and most insufferable of pedagogues, 
and advocates a mode of life wholly at vari- 
ance with the instincts and habits of his age. 
Miss Sewell, in her Principles of Education, 
sternly warns young girls' against the sin of 
chattering with each other, and forbids moth- 
ers' playing with their children as a piece of 
frivolity which cannot fail to weaken the dig- 
nity of their position. 

To a great many parents, both in England 
and in France, such advice would have been 
unnecessary. Who, for instance, can imagine 
Lady Balcarras, with whom it was a word and 
a blow in quick succession, stooping to any 
such weakness ; or that august mother of Har- 
riet Martineau, against whom her daughter 



8 BOOKS AND MEN. 

has recorded all the slights and severities of 
her youth ? Not that we think Miss Martineau 
to have been much worse off than other chil- 
dren of her day ; but as she has chosen with 
signal ill-taste to revenge herself upon her fam- 
ily in her autobiography, we have at least a 
better opportunity of knowing all about it. 
" To one person," she writes, " I was indeed 
habitually untruthful, from fear. To my 
mother I would in my childhood assert or deny 
anything that would bring me through most 
easily," — a confession which, to say the least, 
reflects as little to her own credit as to her 
parent's. Had Mrs. Martineau been as stern 
an upholder of the truth as was Mrs. Wesley, 
her daughter would have ventured upon very 
few fabrications in her presence. When she 
tells us gravely how often she meditated sui- 
cide in these early days, we are fain to smile 
at hearing a fancy so common among morbid 
and imaginative children narrated soberly in 
middle life, as though it were a unique and 
horrible experience. No one endowed by na- 
ture with so copious a fund of self -sympathy 
could ever have stood in need of much pity 
from the outside world. 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 9 

But for real and uncompromising severity 
towards children we must turn to France, 
where for years the traditions of decorum 
and discipline were handed down in noble 
families, and generations of boys and girls 
suffered grievously therefrom. Trifling faults 
were magnified into grave delinquencies, and 
relentlessly punished as such. We sometimes 
wonder whether the youthful Bertrand du 
Guesclin were really the wicked little savage 
that the old chroniclers delight in painting, 
or whether his rude truculence was not very 
much like that of naughty and neglected boys 
the world over. There is, after all, a pathetic 
significance in those lines of C Livelier 's which 
describe in barbarous French the lad's remark- 
able and unprepossessing ugliness : — 

11 II n'ot si lait de Resnes a Disnant, 
Camus estoit et noirs, malostru et massant. 
Li pere et la mere si le heoiant tant, 
Que souvent en leurs cuers aloient desirant 
Que fust mors, ou noiey en une eaue corant." 

Perhaps, if he had been less flat-nosed and 
swarthy, his better qualities might have shone 
forth more clearly in early life, and it would 
not have needed the predictions of a magician 



10 BOOKS AND MEN. 

or the keen-eyed sympathy of a nun to evolve 
the future Constable of France out of such 
apparently hopeless material. At any rate, 
tradition generally representing him either as 
languishing in the castle dungeon, or exiled to 
the society of the domestics, it is plain he bore 
but slight resemblance to the cherished enfant 
terrible who is his legitimate successor to-day. 
Coming down to more modern times, we are 
met by such monuments of stately severity as 
Madame Quinet and the Marquise de Mont- 
mirail, mother of that fair saint Madame de 
Rochefoucauld, the trials of whose later years 
were ushered in by a childhood of unremitting 
harshness and restraint. The marquise was 
incapable of any faltering or weakness where 
discipline was concerned. If carrots were re- 
pulsive to her little daughter's stomach, then 
a day spent in seclusion, with a plate of the 
obnoxious vegetable before her, was the surest 
method of proving that carrots were neverthe- 
less to be eaten. When Augustine and her 
sister kissed their mother's hand each morning, 
and prepared to con their tasks in her awful 
presence, they well knew that not the small- 
est dereliction would be passed over by that 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 11 

inexorable judge. Nor might they aspire, like 
Harriet Martineau, to shield themselves be- 
hind the barrier of a lie. When from Augus- 
tine's little lips came faltering some childish 
evasion, the ten-year-old sinner was hurried as 
an outcast from her home, and sent to expiate 
her crime with six months' merciful seclusion 
in a convent. "You have told me a false- 
hood, mademoiselle," said the marquise, with 
frigid accuracy; "and you must prepare to 
leave my house upon the spot." 

Faults of breeding were quite as offensive to 
this grande dame as faults of temper. The fear 
of her pitiless glance filled her daughters with 
timidity, and bred in them a mauvaise honte, 
which in its turn aroused her deadliest ire. 
Only a week before her wedding-day Madame 
de Rochefoucauld was sent ignominiously to 
dine at a side table, as a penance for the awk- 
wardness of her curtsy ; while even her fast - 
growing beauty became but a fresh source of 
misfortune. The dressing of her magnificent 
hair occupied two long hours every day, and 
she retained all her life a most distinct and 
painful recollection of her sufferings at the 
hands of her coiffeu 



12 BOOKS AND MEN. 

To turn from the Marquis de Montmirail to 
Madame Quinet is to see the picture intensified. 
More beautiful, more stately, more unswerving 
still, her faith in discipline was unbounded, 
and her practice in no wise inconsistent with 
her belief. It was actually one of the institu- 
tions of her married life that a garde de mile 
should pay a domiciliary visit twice a week to 
chastise the three children. If by chance 
they had not been naughty, then the punish- 
ment might be referred to the acount of future 
transgressions, — an arrangement which, while 
it insured justice to the culprits, can hardly 
have afforded them much encouragement to 
amend. Her son Jerome, who ran away when 
a mere boy to enroll with the volunteers of '92, 
reproduced in later years, for the benefit of 
his own household, many of his mother's most 
striking characteristics. He was the father of 
Edgar Quinet, the poet, a child whose preco- 
cious abilities seem never to have awakened 
within him either parental affection or paren- 
tal pride. Silent, austere, repellent, he offered 
no caresses, and was obeyed with timid sub- 
mission. " The gaze of his large blue eyes," 
says Dowden, "imposed restraint with silent 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 13 

authority. His mockery, the play of an intel- 
lect unsympathetic by resolve and upon prin- 
ciple, was freezing to a child ; and the most 
distinct consciousness which his presence pro- 
duced upon the boy was the assurance that he, 
Edgar, was infallibly about to do something 
which would cause displeasure." That this 
was a common attitude with parents in the old 
regime may be inferred from Chateaubriand's 
statement that he and his sister, transformed 
into statues by their father's presence, recov- 
ered their life only when he left the room ; and 
by the assertion of Mirabeau that even while 
at school, two hundred leagues away from his 
father, " the mere thought of him made me 
dread every youthful amusement which could 
be followed by the slightest unfavorable re- 
sult." 

Yet at the present day we are assured by 
Mr. Marshal] that in France " the art of 
spoiling has reached a development which is un- 
known elsewhere, and maternal affection not 
infrequently descends to folly and imbecility." 
But then the clever critic of French Home Life 
had never visited America when lie wrote those 
lines, although some of the stories he tells 



14 BOOKS AND MEN. 

would do credit to any household in our land. 
There is one quite delightful account of a 
young married couple, who, being invited to a 
dinner party of twenty people, failed to make 
their appearance until ten o'clock, when they 
explained urbanely that their three-year-old 
daughter would not permit them to depart. 
Moreover, being a child of great character and 
discrimination, she had insisted on their un- 
dressing and going to bed ; to which reason- 
able request they had rendered a prompt com- 
pliance, rather than see her cry. " It would 
have been monstrous," said the fond mother, 
" to cause her pain simply for our pleasure ; 
so I begged Henri to cease his efforts to per- 
suade her, and we took off our clothes and 
went to bed. As soon as she was asleep we 
got up again, redressed, and here we are with 
a thousand apologies for being so late." 

This sounds half incredible ; but there is 
a touch of nature in the mother's happy in- 
difference to the comfort of her friends, as com- 
pared with the whims of her offspring,* that 
closely appeals to certain past experiences of 
our own. It is all very well for an English- 
man to stare aghast at such a reversal of the 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 15 

laws of nature ; we Americans, who have suf- 
fered and held our peace, can afford to smile 
with some complacency at the thought of 
another great nation bending its head beneath 
the iron yoke. 

To return, however, to the days when chil- 
dren were the ruled, and not the rulers, we find 
ourselves face to face with the great question 
of education. How smooth and easy are the 
paths of learning made now for the little feet 
that tread them ! How rough and steep they 
were in bygone times, watered with many 
tears, and not without a line of victims, whose 
weak strength failed them in the upward strug- 
gle ! We cannot go back to any period when 
school life was not fraught with miseries. 
Classic writers paint in grim colors the harsh- 
ness of the pedagogues who ruled in Greece 
and Rome. Mediaeval authors tell us more 
than enough of the passionless severity that 
swayed the monastic schools, — a severity 
which seems to have been the result of an 
hereditary tradition rather than of individual 
caprice, and which seldom interfered with the 
mutual affection that existed between master 
and scholar. When St. Anselm, the future 



16 BOOKS AND MEN. 

disciple of Lanfranc, and his successor in the 
See of Canterbury, begged as a child of four 
to be sent to school, his mother, Ermenberg, 
— the granddaughter of a king, and the kins- 
woman of every crowned prince in Christen- 
dom, — resisted his entreaties as long as she 
dared, knowing too well the sufferings in store 
for him. A few years later she was forced to 
yield, and these same sufferings very nearly 
cost her son his life. 

The boy was both studious and docile, and 
his teacher, fully recognizing his precocious 
talents, determined to force them to the ut- 
most. In order that so active a mind should 
not for a moment be permitted to relax its 
tension, he kept the little scholar a ceaseless 
prisoner at his desk. Rest and recreation 
were alike denied him, while the utmost rigors 
of a discipline, of which we can form no ade- 
quate conception, wrung from the child's over- 
worked brain an unflinching attention to his 
tasks. As a result of this cruel folly, " the 
brightest star of the eleventh century had been 
well-nigh quenched in its rising." l Mind and 
body alike yielded beneath the strain ; and 

1 Life of St. Anselm, Bishop of Canterbury. By Martin 
Rule. 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 17 

Anselru, a broken-down little wreck, was re- 
turned to his mother's hands, to be slowly- 
nursed back to health and reason. " Ah, me ! 
I have lost my child ! " sighed Ermenberg, 
when she found that not all that he had suf- 
fered could shake the boy's determination to 
return ; and the mother of Guibert de Nogent 
must have echoed the sentiment when her little 
son, his back purple with stripes, looked her 
in the face, and answered steadily to her lam- 
entations, " If I die of my whippings, I still 
mean to be whipped." 

The step from the monastic schools to Eton 
and AVestminster is a long one, but the gain 
not so apparent at first sight as might be sup- 
posed. It is hard for the luxurious Etonian 
of to-day to realize that for many years his 
predecessors suffered enough from cold, hun- 
ger, and barbarous ill-treatment to make life 
a burden on their hands. The system, while 
it hardened some into the desired manliness, 
must have killed many whose feebler constitu- 
tions could ill support its rigor. Even as late 
as 1834, we are told by one who had ample 
opportunity to study the subject carefully that 
" the inmates of a workhouse or a jail were 



18 BOOKS AND MEN. 

better fed and lodged than were the scholars 
of Eton. Boys whose parents could not pay 
for a private room underwent privations that 
might have broken down a cabin-boy, and 
would be thought inhuman if inflicted on a 
galley-slave." Nor is this sentiment as exag- 
gerated as it sounds. To get up at five on 
freezing winter mornings ; to sweep their own 
floors and make their own beds ; to go two by 
two to the "children's pump" for a scanty 
wash; to eat no mouthful of food until nine 
o'clock ; to live on an endless round of mutton, 
potatoes, and beer, none of them too plentiful 
or too good ; to sleep in a dismal cell without 
chair or table ; to improvise a candlestick out 
of paper ; to be starved, frozen, and flogged, — 
such was the daily life of the scions of Eng- 
land's noblest families, of lads tenderly nur- 
tured and sent from princely homes to win 
their Greek and Latin at this fearful cost. 

Moreover, the picture of one public school 
is in all essential particulars the picture of the 
rest. The miseries might vary somewhat, but 
their bulk remained the same. At Westmin- 
ster the younger boys, hard pushed by hunger, 
gladly received the broken victuals left from 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 19 

the table of the senior election, and tried to 
supplement their scanty fare with strange and 
mysterious concoctions, whose unsavory de- 
tails have been handed down among the mel- 
ancholy traditions of the past. 

In 1847 a young brother of Lord Mansfield 
being very ill at school, his mother came to 
visit him. There was but one chair in the 
room, upon which the poor invalid was reclin- 
ing ; but his companion, seeing the dilemma, 
immediately arose, and with true boyish polite- 
ness offered Lady Mansfield the coal-scuttle, 
on which he himself had been sitting. At 
Winchester, Sydney Smith suffered "many 
years of misery and starvation," while his 
younger brother, Courtenay, twice ran away, 
in the vain effort to escape his wretchedness. 
"There was never enough provided of even 
the coarsest food for the whole school," writes 
Lady Holland ; u and the little boys were of 
course left to fare as well as they could. Even 
in his old age my father used to shudder at the 
recollections of Winchester, and I have heard 
him speak with horror of the misery of the 
years he spent there. The whole system, he 
affirmed, was one of abuse, neglect, and vice." 



20 BOOKS AND MEN 

In the matter of discipline there was no 
shadow of choice anywhere. Capricious cru- 
elty ruled under every scholastic roof. On 
the one side, we encounter Dean Colet, of St. 
Paul's, whom Erasmus reported as " delight- 
ing in children in a Christian spirit ; " which 
meant that he never wearied of seeing them 
suffer, believing that the more they endured 
as boys, the more worthy they would grow in 
manhood. On the other, we are confronted 
by the still more awful ghost of Dr. Keate, 
who could and did flog eighty boys in succes- 
sion without a pause ; and who, being given 
the confirmation list by mistake for the pun- 
ishment list, insisted on flogging every one of 
the catechumens, as a good preparation for 
receiving the sacrament. Sir Francis Doyle, 
almost the only apologist who has so far ven- 
tured to appear in behalf of this fiery little 
despot, once remarked to Lord Blachford that 
Keate did not much mind a boy's lying to 
him. "What he hated was a monotony of 
excuses." " Mind your lying to him ! " re- 
torted Lord Blachford, with a keen recollec- 
tion of his own juvenile experiences ; " why, 
he exacted it as a token of respect." 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 21 

If, sick of the brutality of the schools, we 
seek those rare cases in which a home edu- 
cation was substituted, we are generally re- 
warded by finding the comforts greater and 
the cramming worse. It is simply impossible 
for a pedagogue to try and wring from a hun- 
dred brains the excess of work which may, un- 
der clever treatment, be extracted from one ; 
and so the Eton boys, with all their manifold 
miseries, were at least spared the peculiar 
experiments which were too often tried upon 
solitary scholars. Nowadays anxious parents 
and guardians seem to labor under an ill- 
founded apprehension that their children are 
going to hurt themselves by over-application 
to their books, and we hear a great deal about 
the expedience of restraining this inordinate 
zeal. But a few generations back such com- 
fortable theories had yet to be evolved, and 
the plain duty of a teacher was to goad the 
student on to every effort in his power. 

Perhaps the two most striking instances of 
home training that have been given to the 
world are those of John Stuart Mill and Gia- 
como Leopardi ; the principal difference be- 
ing that, while the English boy was crammed 



22 BOOKS AND MEN. 

scientifically by his father, the Italian poet 
was permitted to relentlessly cram himself. 
In both cases we see the same melancholy, 
blighted childhood ; the same cold indifference 
to the mother, as to one who had no part or 
parcel in their lives ; the same joyless routine 
of labor ; the same unboyish gravity and pre- 
cocious intelligence. Mill studied Greek at 
three, Latin at eight, the Organon at eleven, 
and Adam Smith at thirteen. Leopardi at 
ten was well acquainted with most Latin au- 
thors, and undertook alone and unaided the 
study of Greek, perfecting himself in that lan- 
guage before he was fourteen. Mill's sole rec- 
reation was to walk with his father, narrating 
to him the substance of his last day's reading. 
Leopardi, being forbidden to go about Reca- 
nati without his tutor, acquiesced with pa- 
thetic resignation, and ceased to wander outside 
the garden gates. Mill had all boyish enthu- 
siasm and healthy partisanship crushed out of 
him by his father's pitiless logic. Leopardi's 
love for his country burned like a smothered 
flame, and added one more to the pangs that 
eat out his soul in silence. His was truly a 
wonderful intellect ; and whereas the English 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 23 

lad was merely forced by training into a pre- 
cocity foreign to his nature, and which, ac- 
cording to Mr. Bain, failed to produce any 
great show of juvenile scholarship, the Italian 
boy fed on books with a resistless and craving 
appetite, his mind growing warped and morbid 
as his enfeebled body sank more and more un- 
der the unwholesome strain. In the long lists 
of despotically reared children there is no sad- 
der sight than this undisciplined, eager, im- 
petuous soul, burdened alike with physical and 
moral weakness, meeting tyrannical author- 
ity with a show of insincere submission, and 
laying up in his lonely infancy the seeds of a 
sorrow which was to find expression in the 
key-note of his work, Life is Only Fit to be 
Despised. 

Between the severe mental training of boys 
and the education thought fit and proper for 
girls, there was throughout the eighteenth cen- 
tury a broad and purposeless chasm. Before 
that time, and after it, too, the majority of 
women were happily ignorant of many sub- 
jects which every school-girl of to-day aspires 
to handle ; but during the reigns of Queen 
Anne and the first three Georges, this igno- 



24 BOOKS AND MEN. 

ranee was considered an essential charm of 
their sex, and was displayed with a pretty 
ostentation that sufficiently proves its value. 
Such striking exceptions as Madame de Stael, 
Mrs. Montagu, and Anne Darner were not 
wanting to give points of light to the picture ; 
but they hardly represent the real womanhood 
of their time. Femininity was then based 
upon shallowness, and girls were solemnly 
warned not to try and ape the acquirements of 
men, but to keep themselves rigorously within 
their own ascertained limits. We find a fa- 
mous school-teacher, under whose fostering 
care many a court belle was trained for social 
triumphs, laying down the law on this subject 
with no uncertain hand, and definitely placing 
women in their proper station. " Had a third 
order been necessary," she writes naively, 
"doubtless one would have been created, a 
midway kind of being." In default, however, 
of this recognized via media, she deprecates 
all impious attempts to bridge over the chasm 
between the two sexes ; and " accounts it a 
misfortune for a female to be learned, a ge- 
nius, or in any way a prodigy, as it removes 
her from her natural sphere. 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 25 

" Those were days," says a writer in Black- 
wood, " when superficial teaching was thought 
the proper teaching for girls ; when every 
science had its feminine language, as Hindu 
ladies talk with a difference and with softer 
terminations than their lords : as The Young 
Ladies' Geography, which is to be read in- 
stead of novels ; A Young Ladies' Guide 
to Astronomy ; The Use of the Globes for 
Girls' Schools ; and the Ladies' Polite Let- 
ter-Writer." What was really necessary for 
a girl was to learn how to knit, to dance, to 
curtsy, and to carve ; the last-named accom- 
plishment being one of her exclusive privileges. 
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu received lessons 
from a professional carving-master, who taught 
her the art scientifically ; and during her fa- 
ther's grand dinners her labors were often so 
exhausting that translating the Enchiridion 
must have seemed by comparison a light and 
easy task. Indeed, after that brilliant baby 
entrance into the Kitcat Club, very little that 
was pleasant fell to Lady Mary's share ; and 
years later she recalls the dreary memories of 
her youth in a letter written to her sister, 
Lady Mar. " Don't you remember," she asks, 



26 BOOKS AND MEN. 

pathetically, " how miserable we were in the 
little parlor at Thoresby ? " 

Her own education she always protested was 
of the worst and flimsiest character, and her 
girlish scorn at the restraints that cramped and 
fettered her is expressed vigorously enough 
in the well-known letter to Bishop Burnet. It 
was considered almost criminal, she complains, 
to improve her reason, or even to fancy she 
had any. To be learned was to be held up 
to universal ridicule, and the only line of 
conduct open to her was to play the fool in 
concert with other women of quality, " whose 
birth and leisure merely serve to make them 
the most useless and worthless part of crea- 
tion." Yet viewed alongside of her contem- 
poraries, Lady Mary's advantages were really 
quite unusual. She had some little guidance 
in her studies, with no particular opposition to 
overcome, and tolerance was as much at any 
time as a thoughtful girl could hope for. 
Nearly a century later we find little Mary 
Fairfax — afterwards Mrs. Somerville, and 
the most learned woman in England — being 
taught how to sew, to read her Bible, and to 
learn the Shorter Catechism ; all else being 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 27 

considered superfluous for a female. More- 
over, the child's early application to her books 
was regarded with great disfavor by her rela- 
tives, who plainly thought that no good was 
likely to come of it. " I wonder," said her 
rigid aunt to Lady Fairfax, " that you let 
Mary waste her time in reading ! " 

" You cannot hammer a girl into any- 
thing," says Euskin, who has constituted him- 
self both champion and mentor of the sex ; 
and perhaps this was the reason that so many 
of these rigorously drilled and kept-down girls 
blossomed perversely into brilliant and schol- 
arly women. Nevertheless, it is comforting to 
turn back for a moment, and see what Hol- 
land, in the seventeenth century, could do for 
her clever children. Mr. Gosse has shown us 
a charming picture of the three daughters of 
Roemer Visscher, the poetess Tesselschade and 
her less famous sisters, — three little girls, 
whose healthy mental and physical training 
was happily free from either narrow contrac- 
tion or hot-house pressure. " All of them," 
writes Ernestus Brink, " were practiced in very 
sweet accomplishments. They could play mu- 
sic, paint, write, and engrave on glass, make 



28 BOOKS AND MEN 

poems, cut emblems, embroider all manner of 
fabrics, and swim well ; which last thing they 
had learned in their father's garden, where 
there was a canal with water, outside the 
city." What wonder that these little maid- 
ens, with skilled fingers, and clear heads, and 
vigorous bodies, grew into three keen-witted 
and charming women, around whom we find 
grouped that rich array of talent which sud- 
denly raised Holland to a unique literary dis- 
tinction ! What wonder that their influence, 
alike refining and strengthening, was felt on 
every hand, and was repaid with universal 
gratitude and love ! 

There is a story told of Professor Wilson, 
that one day, listening to a lecture on educa- 
tion by Dr. Whately, he grew manifestly im- 
patient at the rules laid down, and finally 
slipped out of the room, exclaiming irately to 
a friend who followed him, " I always thought 
God Almighty made man, but he says it was 
the schoolmaster." 

In like manner many of us have wondered 
from time to time whether children are made 
of such ductile material, and can be as readily 
moulded to our wishes, as educators would 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 29 

have us believe. If it be true that nature 
counts for nothing and training for every- 
thing, then what a gap between the boys and 
girls of two hundred years ago and the boys 
and girls we know to-day ! The rigid bands 
that once bound the young to decorum have 
dwindled to a silver thread that snaps under 
every restive movement. To have " perfectly 
natural " children seems to be the outspoken 
ambition of parents, who have succeeded in 
retrograding their offspring from artificial civ- 
ilization to that pure and wholesome savagery 
which is too plainly their ideal. " It is as- 
sumed nowadaj T s," declares an angry critic, 
" that children have come into the world to 
make a noise ; and it is the part of every good 
parent to put up with it, and to make all 
household arrangements with a view to their 
sole pleasure and convenience." 

That the children brought up under this 
relaxed discipline acquire certain merits and 
charms of their own is an easily acknowledged 
fact. We are not now alluding to those 
spoiled and over-indulged little people who 
are the recognized scourges of humanity, but 
merely to the boys and girls who have been 



30 BOOKS AND MEN. 

allowed from infancy that large degree of 
freedom which is deemed expedient for en- 
lightened nurseries, and who regulate their 
own conduct on the vast majority of occasions. 
They are as a rule light-hearted, truthful, 
affectionate, and occasionally amusing ; but it 
cannot be denied that they lack that nicety of 
breeding which was at one time the distin- 
guishing mark of children of the upper classes, 
and which was in a great measure born of the 
restraints that surrounded them. The faculty 
of sitting still without fidgeting, of walking 
without rushing, and of speaking without 
screaming can be acquired only under tuition ; 
but it is worth some little trouble to attain. 
When Sydney Smith remarked that the chil- 
dren of rank were generally so much better 
bred than the children of the middle classes, 
he recognized the greater need for self-restraint 
that entered into their lives. They may have 
been less natural, perhaps, but they were infi- 
nitely more pleasing to his fastidious eyes ; and 
the unconscious grace which he admired was 
merely the reflection of the universal courtesy 
that surrounded them. Nor is this all. " The 
necessity of self -repression," says a recent 



CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT. 



31 



writer in Blackwood, " makes room for thought, 
which those children miss who have no formali- 
ties to observe, no customs to respect, who blurt 
out every irrelevance, who interpose at will with 
question and opinion as it enters the brain. 
Children don't learn to talk by chattering to 
one another, and saying what comes upper- 
most. Mere listening with intelligence in- 
volves an exercise of mental speech, and ob- 
servant silence opens the pores of the mind as 
impatient demands for explanation never do." 
This is true, inasmuch as it is not the child 
who is encouraged to talk continually who in 
the end learns how to arrange and express his 
ideas. Nor does the fretful desire to be told 
at once what everything means imply the ac- 
tive mind which parents so fondly suppose ; 
but rather a languid percipience, unable to 
decipher the simplest causes for itself. Yet 
where shall we turn to look for the " observant 
silence," so highly recommended ? The young 
people who observed and were silent have 
passed away, — little John Ruskin being as- 
suredly the last of the species, — and their 
places are filled by those to whom observation 
and silence are alike unknown. This is the 



32 BOOKS AND MEN. 

children's age, and all things are subservient 
to their wishes. Masses of juvenile literature 
are published annually for their amusement ; 
conversation is reduced steadily to their level 
while they are present ; meals are arranged to 
suit their hours, and the dishes thereof to suit 
their palates; studies are made simpler and 
toys more elaborate with each succeeding year. 
The hardships they once suffered are now hap- 
pily ended, the decorum once exacted is fading 
rapidly away. We accept the situation with 
philosophy, and only now and then, under the 
pressure of some new development, are startled 
into asking ourselves where it is likely to end. 



OX THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTI- 
TION. 

" We in England," says Mr. Kinglake, 
"are scarcely sufficiently conscious of the 
great debt we owe to the wise and watchful 
press which presides over the formation of 
our opinions, and which brings about this 
splendid result, namely, that in matters of be- 
lief the humblest of us are lifted up to the 
level of the most sagacious ; so that really a 
simple cornet in the Blues is no more likely 
to entertain a foolish belief in' ghosts, or 
witchcraft, or any other supernatural topic, 
than the Lord High Chancellor or the leader 
of the House of Commons." This delicate 
sarcasm, delivered with all the author's habit- 
ual serenity of mind, is quoted by Mr. Buskin 
in his Art of England ; assentingly, indeed, 
but with a half-concealed dismay that any one 
could find it in his heart to be funny upon 
such a distressing subject. When he, Mr. 



34 BOOKS AND MEN. 

Ruskin, hurls his satiric shafts against the 
spirit of modern skepticism, the points are 
touched with caustic, and betray a deep impa- 
tience darkening quickly into wrath. Is it 
not bad enough that we ride in steam-cars in- 
stead of post-chaises, live amid brick houses 
instead of green fields, and pass by some of 
the " most accomplished pictures in the 
world " to stare gaping at the last new ma- 
chine, with its network of slow-revolving, 
wicked-looking wheels ? If, in addition to 
these too prominent faults, we are going to 
frown down the old appealing superstitions, 
and threaten them, like naughty children, 
with the corrective discipline of scientific re- 
search, he very properly turns his back upon 
us forever, and distinctly says he has no fur- 
ther message for our ears. 

Let us rather, then, approach the subject 
with the invaluable humility of Don Bernal 
Dias del Castillo, that gallant soldier who fol- 
lowed the fortunes of Cortes into Mexico, and 
afterwards penned the Historia Verdadera, an 
ingenuous narrative of their discoveries, their 
hardships, and their many battles. In one 
of these, it seems, the blessed Saint Iago 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 35 

appeared in the thickest of the fray, mounted 
on a snow-white charger, leading his beloved 
Spaniards to victory. Now the conquestador 
freely admits that he himself did not behold 
the saint; on the contrary, w r hat he did see 
in that particular spot was a cavalier named 
Francisco de Morla, riding on a chestnut 
horse. But does he, on that account, puff 
himself up with pride, and declare that his 
more fortunate comrades were mistaken ? By 
no means ! He is as firmly convinced of the 
presence of the vision as if it had been appar- 
ent to his eyes, and with admirable modesty 
lays all the blame upon his own unworthiness. 
" Sinner that I am ! " he exclaims devoutly, 
" why should I have been permitted to behold 
the blessed apostle ? " In the same spirit, 
honest Peter Walker strained his sight in 
vain for a glimpse of the ghostly armies that 
crossed the Clyde in the summer of 1686, 
and, seeing nothing, was content to believe in 
them, all the same, on the testimony of his 
neighbors. 

Sir Walter Scott, who appears to have 
wasted a good deal of time in trying to per- 
suade himself that he put no faith in spirits, 



36 BOOKS AND MEN. 

confesses quite humbly, in his old age, that 
" the tendency to belief in supernatural agen- 
cies seems connected with and deduced from 
the invaluable conviction of the certainty of a 
future state." And beyond a doubt this ten- 
dency was throughout his life the source of 
many pleasurable emotions. So much so, in 
fact, that, according to Mr. Pater's theory of 
happiness, the loss of these emotions, bred in 
him from childhood, would have been very 
inadequately repaid by a gain in scientific 
knowledge. If it be the true wisdom to direct 
our finest efforts towards multiplying our sen- 
sations, and so expanding the brief interval 
we call life, then the old unquestioning cre- 
dulity was a more powerful motor in human 
happiness than any sentiment that fills its 
ground to-day. In the first place it was closely 
associated with certain types of beauty, and 
beauty is one of the tonics now most ear- 
nestly recommended to our sick souls. " Les 
fions d'aut fais " were charming to the very 
tips of their dewy, trembling wings ; the elfin 
people, who danced in the forest glades under 
the white moonbeams, danced their way with- 
out any difficulty right into the hearts of men ; 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 37 

the swan-maiden, who ventured shyly in the 
fisher's path, was easily transformed into a 
loving wife ; even the mara, most suspicious 
and terrible of ghostly visitors, has often laid 
aside her darker instincts, and developed into 
a cheerful spouse, with only a tinge of mys- 
tery to make her more attractive in her hus- 
band's eyes. Melusina combing her golden 
hair by the bubbling fountain of Lusignan, 
Undine playing in the rain-drenched forest, 
the nixie dancing at the village feast with her 
handsome Flemish lad, and the mermaid re- 
luctantly leaving her watery home to wed the 
youth who captured her magic seal-skin, all 
belong to the sisterhood of beauty, and their 
images did good service in raising the vulgar 
mind from its enforced contemplation of the 
sordid troubles, the droning vexations, of life. 
Next, the happy believers in the supernat- 
ural owed to their simplicity delicious throbs 
of fear, — not craven cowardice, but that more 
refined and complex feeling, w T hich is of all 
sensations the most enthralling, the most elu- 
sive, and the most impossible to define. Fear, 
like all other treacherous gifts, must be 
handled with discrimination : a thought too 



38 BOOKS AND MEN. 

much, and we are brutalized and degraded ; 
but within certain limits it enhances all the 
pleasures of life. When Captain Forsyth 
stood behind a tree on a sultry summer morn- 
ing, and saw the tigress step softly through 
the long jungle grass, and the affrighted 
monkeys swing chattering overhead, there 
must have come upon him that sensation of 
awe which alone makes courage possible. 1 
He knew that his life hung trembling in the 
balance, and that all depended upon the first 
shot he fired. He respected, as a sane man 
would, the mighty strength of his antagonist, 
her graceful limbs instinct with power, her 
cruel eyes blinking in the yellow dawn. And 
born of the fear, which stirred but could not 
conquer him, came the keen transport of the 
hunter, who feels that one such supremely 
heroic moment is worth a year of ordinary 
life. Without that dread, not only would the 
joy be lessened, and the glad rebound from 
danger to a sense of safety lost forever, but 
the disciplined and manly courage of the Eng- 
lish soldier would degenerate into a mere 

1 The Highlands of Central India. By Captain James 
Forsyth. 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 39 

brutish audacity, hardly above the level of the 
beast he slays. 

In children, this delicate emotion of fear, 
growing out of their dependent condition, 
gives dignity and meaning to their courage 
when they are brave, and a delicious zest to 
their youthful delinquencies. Gray, in his 
chilly and melancholy manhood, years after 
he has resigned himself to never again being 
" either dirty or amused " as long as he lives, 
goes back like a flash to the unlawful delight 
of a schoolboy's stolen freedom : — 

" Still as they run they look "behind, 
They hear a voice in every wind, 
And snatch a fearful joy." 

And who that has ever watched a party of 
children, listening with bright eyes and parted 
lips to some weird, uncanny legend, — like 
that group of little girls for instance, in Mr. 
Charles Gregory's picture Tales and Won- 
ders, — can doubt for a moment the " fearful 
joy " that terror lends them ? Nowadays, it 
is true, their youthful ears are but too well 
guarded from such indiscretions until they are 
old enough to scoff at all fantastic folly, and 
the age at which they learn to scoff is one of 



40 BOOKS AND MEN 

the most astonishing things about our mod- 
ern progress. They have ceased to read fairy 
stories, because they no longer believe in 
fairies ; they find Hans Andersen silly, and 
the Arabian Nights stupid ; and the very 
babies, " skeptics in long-coats," scorn you 
openly if you venture to hint at Santa Claus. 
" What did Kriss Kr ingle bring you this 
Christmas ? " I rashly asked a tiny mite of 
a girl ; and her answer was as emphatic as 
Betsey Prig's, when, with folded arms and a 
contemptuous mien, she let fall the ever mem- 
orable words, " I don't believe there's no sich 
a person." 

Yet the supernatural, provided it be not too 
horrible, is legitimate food for a child's mind, 
nourishes its imagination, inspires a healthy 
awe, and is death to that precocious pedantry 
which is the least pleasing trait that children 
are wont to manifest. While few are willing 
to go as far as Mr. Buskin, who, having him- 
self been brought up on fairy legends, con- 
fesses that his " first impulse would be to in- 
sist upon every story we tell to a child being 
untrue, and every scene we paint for it impos- 
sible," yet a fair proportion of the untrue and 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 41 

the impossible should enter into its education, 
and it should be left to the enjoyment of them 
as long as may be. Those of us who have 
been happy enough to believe that salaman- 
ders basked in the fire and mermaids swam in 
the deeps, that were-wolves roamed in the for- 
ests and witches rode in the storm, are richer 
by all these unfading pictures and unforgotten 
memories than our more scrupulously reared 
neighbors. And what if we could give such 
things the semblance of reality once more, — 
could set foot in spirit within the enchanted 
forest of Broceliande, and enjoy the tempestu- 
ous gusts of fear that shook the heart-strings 
of the Breton peasant, as the great trees drew 
their mysterious shadows above his head ? 
On either side lurk shadowy forms of elf and 
fairy, half hidden by the swelling trunks ; the 
wind whispers in the heavy boughs, and he 
hears their low, malicious laughter ; the dry 
leaves rustle beneath his feet, — he knows 
their stealthy steps are close behind ; a broken 
twig falls on his shoulder, and he starts trem- 
bling, for unseen hands have touched him. 
Around his neck hang a silver medal of Our 
Lady and a bit of ash w T ood given him by a 



42 BOOKS AND MEN. 

wise woman, whom many believe a witch ; 
thus is he doubly guarded from the powers of 
evil. Beyond the forest lies the open path, 
where wife and children stand waiting by the 
cottage door. He is a brave man to wander 
in the gloaming, and if he reaches home there 
will be much to tell of all that he has seen, 
and heard, and felt. Should he be devoured 
by wolves, however, — and there is always this 
prosaic danger to be apprehended, — then his 
comrades will relate how he left them and 
went alone into the haunted woods, and his sor- 
rowing widow will know that the fairies have 
carried him away, or turned him into stone. 
And the wise woman, reproached, perhaps, for 
the impotence of her charms, will say how 
with her own aged eyes she has three times 
seen Kourigan, Death's elder brother, flitting 
before the doomed man, and knew that his 
fate was sealed. So while fresh tales of mys- 
tery cluster round his name, and his children 
breathe them in trembling whispers by the 
fireside, their mother will wait hopefully for 
the spell to be broken, and the lost given back 
to her arms ; until Pierrot, the charcoal- 
burner, persuades her that a stone remains 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 43 

a stone until the Judgment Day, and that in 
the mean time his own hut by the kiln is 
empty, and he needs a wife. 

But superstition, it is claimed, begets cru- 
elty, and cruelty is a vice now most rigorously 
frowned down by polite society. Daring spir- 
its, like Mr. Besant, may still urge its claims 
upon our reluctant consideration ; Mr. Andrew 
Lang may pronounce it an essential element 
of humor ; or a purely speculative genius, like 
Mr. Pater, may venture to show how adroitly 
it can be used as a help to religious senti- 
ment ; but every age has pet vices of its own, 
and, being singularly intolerant of those it has 
discarded, is not inclined to listen to any ar- 
guments in their favor. Superstition burned 
old women for witches, dotards for warlocks, 
and idiots for were-wolves ; but in its gentler 
aspect it often threw a veil of charity over 
both man and beast. The Greek rustic, who 
found a water-newt wriggling in his gourd, 
tossed the little creature back into the stream, 
remembering that it was the unfortunate As- 
calaphus, whom the wrath of Demeter had con- 
signed to this loathsome doom. The medi- 
aeval housewife, when startled by a gaunt wolf 



44 BOOKS AND MEN. 

gazing through her kitchen window, bethought 
her that this might be her lost husband, roam- 
ing helpless and bewitched, and so gave the 
starving creature food. 

" O was it war- wolf in the wood ? 
Or was it mermaid in the sea ? 
Or was it man, or vile woman, 

My ain true love, that misshaped thee ? M 

The West Indian negress still bestows chicken- 
soup instead of scalding water on the invading 
army of black ants, believing that if kindly- 
treated they will show their gratitude in the 
only way that ants can manifest it, — by tak- 
ing their departure. 

Granted that in these acts of gentleness 
there are traces of fear and self -consideration ; 
but who shall say that all our good deeds are 
not built up on some such trestle-work of 
foibles ? " La virtu n'iroit pas si loin, si la 
vanite ne lui tenoit pas compagnie." And 
what universal politeness has been fostered by 
the terror that superstition breeds, what deli- 
cate euphemisms containing the very soul of 
courtesy ! Consider the Greeks, who christ- 
ened the dread furies " Eumenides, , ' or " gra- 
cious ones ; " the Scotch who warily spoke of 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 45 

the devil as the "good man," lest his sharp 
ears should catch a more unflattering title; 
the Dyak who respectfully mentions the small- 
pox as "the chief;" the East Indian who 
calls the tiger " lord " or " grandfather ; " and 
the Laplander, who gracefully alludes to the 
white bear as " the fur-clad one," and then re- 
alize what perfection of breeding was involved 
in what we are wont to call ignorant credulity. 
Again, in the stress of modern life, how lit- 
tle room is left for that most comfortable van- 
ity which whispers in our ears that failures are 
not faults ! Now we are taught from infancy 
that we must rise or fall upon our own merits ; 
that vigilance wins success, and incapacity 
means ruin. But before the world had grown 
so pitilessly logical there was no lack of ex- 
cuses for the defeated, and of unflattering 
comments for the strong. Did some shrewd 
Cornish miner open a rich vein of ore, then it 
was apparent to his fellow-toilers that the 
knackers had been at work, leading him on by 
their mysterious tapping to this more fruitful 
field. But let him proceed warily, for the 
knacker, like its German brother, the kobold, 
is but a capricious sprite, and some day may 



46 BOOKS AND MEN. 

beguile him into a mysterious passage or long- 
forgotten chamber in the mine, whence he 
shall never more return. His bones will 
whiten in their prison, while his spirit, wan- 
dering restlessly among the subterranean cor- 
ridors, will be heard on Christmas Eve, ham- 
mering wearily away till the gray dawn 
brightens in the east. Or did some prosper- 
ous farmer save his crop while his neighbors' 
corn was blighted, and raise upon his small 
estate more than their broader acres could be 
forced to yield, there was no opportunity af- 
forded him for pride or self -congratulation. 
Only the witch's art could bring about such 
strange results, and the same sorceries that 
had aided him had, doubtless, been the ruin 
of his friends. He was a lucky man if their 
indignation went no further than muttered 
phrases and averted heads. Does not Pliny 
tell us the story of Caius Furius Cresinus, 
whose heavy crops awoke such mingled anger 
and suspicion in his neighbors' hearts that he 
was accused in the courts of conjuring their 
grain and fruit into his own scanty ground ? 
If a woman aspired to be neater than her gos- 
sips, or to spin more wool than they were able 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 47 

to display, it was only because the pixies 
labored for her at night; turning her wheel 
briskly in the moonlight, splitting the wood, 
and drawing the water, while she drowsed idly 
in her bed. 

' ' And every night the pixies good 
Drive round the wheel with sound subdued, 
And leave — in this they never fail — 
A silver penny in the pail." 

Even to the clergy this engaging theory 
brought its consolations. When the Rever- 
end Lucas Jacobson Debes, pastor of Thors- 
haven in 1670, found that his congregation 
was growing slim, he was not forced, in bit- 
terness of spirit, to ask himself were his ser- 
mons dull, but promptly laid all the blame 
upon the biergen-trold, the spectres of the 
mountains, whom he angrily accused, in a 
lengthy homily, of disturbing his flock, and 
even pushing their discourtesy so far as to 
carry them off bodily before his discourse was 
completed. 

Indeed, it is to the clergy that we are in- 
debted for much interesting information con- 
cerning the habits of goblins, witches, and 
gnomes. The Reverend Robert Kirke, of 



48 BOOKS AND MEN, 

Aberfoyle, Perthshire, divided his literary la- 
bors impartially between a translation of the 
Psalms into Gaelic verse and an elaborate 
treatise on the " Subterranean and for the 
most part Invisible People, heretofore going 
under the name of Elves, Faunes, and Fairies, 
or the like," which was printed, with the au- 
thor's name attached, in 1691. Here, unsul- 
lied by any taint of skepticism, we have an 
array of curious facts that would suggest the 
closest intimacy between the rector and the 
" Invisible People," who at any rate concealed 
nothing from his eyes. He tells us gravely 
that they marry, have children, die, and are 
buried, very much like ordinary mortals ; that 
they are inveterate thieves, stealing every- 
thing, from the milk in the dairy to the baby 
lying on its mother's breast ; that they can 
fire their elfin arrow-heads so adroitly that the 
weapon penetrates to the heart without break- 
ing the skin, and he himself has seen animals 
wounded in this manner ; that iron in any 
shape or form is a terror to them, not for the 
same reason that Solomon misliked it, but on 
account of the proximity of the great iron 
mines to the place of eternal punishment ; and 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 49 

— strangest of all — that they can read and 
write, and have extensive libraries, where light 
and toyish books alternate with ponderous 
volumes on abstruse mystical subjects. Only 
the Bible may not be found among them. 

How Mr. Kirke acquired all these particu- 
lars — whether, like John Dietrich, he lived 
in the Elfin Mound and grew wise on elfin 
wisdom, or whether he adopted a less labori- 
ous and secluded method — does not transpire. 
But one thing is certain : he was destined to 
pay a heavy price for his unhallowed knowl- 
edge. The fairies, justly irritated at such an 
open revelation of their secrets, revenged them- 
selves signally by carrying off the offender, 
and imprisoning him beneath the dun-shi, or 
goblin hill, where he has since had ample op- 
portunity to pursue his investigations. It is 
true, his parishioners supposed he had died 
of apoplexy, and, under that impression, 
buried him in Aberf oyle churchyard ; but his 
successor, the Rev. Dr. Grahame, informs us 
of the widespread belief concerning his true 
fate. An effort was even made to rescue him 
from his captivity, but it failed through the 
neglect of a kinsman, Grahame of Duchray; 



50 BOOKS AND MEN. 

and Robert Kirke, like Thomas of Ercildoune 
and the three miners of the Kuttenberg, still 
" drees his weird " in the enchanted halls of 
elfland. 

When the unfortunate witches of Warbois 
were condemned to death, on the testimony of 
the Throgmorton children, Sir Samuel Crom- 
well, as lord of the manor, received forty 
pounds out of their estate ; which sum he 
turned into a rent-charge of forty shillings 
yearly, for the endowment of an annual lec- 
ture on witchcraft, to be preached by a doc- 
tor or bachelor of divinity, of Queen's Col- 
lege, Cambridge. Thus he provided for his 
tenants a good sound church doctrine on this 
interesting subject, and we may rest assured 
that the sermons were far from quieting their 
fears, or lulling them into a skeptical indiffer- 
ence. Indeed, more imposing names than Sir 
Samuel Cromwell's appear in the lists to do 
battle for cherished superstitions. Did not 
the devout and conscientious Baxter firmly be- 
lieve in the powers of witches, especially after 
u hearing their sad confessions ; " and was not 
the gentle and learned Addison more than 
half disposed to believe in them, too ? Does 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 51 

not Bacon avow that a " well-regulated " astrol- 
ogy might become the medium of many bene- 
ficial truths ; and did not the scholarly Domin- 
ican, Stephen of Lusignan, expand the legend 
of Melusina into so noble a history, that the 
great houses of Luxembourg, Rohan, and Sas- 
senaye altered their pedigrees, so as to claim 
descent from that illustrious nymph? Even 
the Emperor Henry VII. was as proud of his 
fishy ancestress as was Godfrey de Bouillon of 
his mysterious grandsire, Helias, the Knight 
of the Swan, better known to us as the Lohen- 
grin of Wagner's opera ; while among more 
modest annals appear the families of Fantome 
and Dobie, each bearing a goblin on their 
crest, in witness of their claim to some shadowy 
supernatural kinship. 

There is often a marked contrast between 
the same superstition as developed in different 
countries, and in the same elfin folk, who 
please or terrify us according to the gay or seri- 
ous bent of their mortal interpreters. While 
the Keltic ourisk is bright and friendly, with 
a tinge of malice and a strong propensity to 
blunder, the English brownie is a more clever 
and audacious sprite, the Scottish bogle is a 



52 BOOKS AND MEN. 

sombre and dangerous acquaintance, and the 
Dutch Hudikin an ungainly counterpart of 
Puck, with hardly a redeeming quality, save a 
lumbering fashion of telling the truth when it 
is least expected. It was Hudikin who foretold 
the murder of James I. of Scotland ; though 
why he should have left the dikes of Holland 
for the bleak Highland hills it is hard to say, 
more especially as there were murders enough 
at home to keep him as busy as Cassandra. 
So, too, when the English witches rode up the 
chimney and through the storm-gusts to their 
unhallowed meetings, they apparently confined 
their attention to the business in hand, having 
perhaps enough to occupy them in managing 
their broomstick steeds. But when the Scot- 
tish hags cried, " Horse and hattock in the 
devil's name ! " and rushed fiercely through 
the tempestuous night, the unlucky traveler 
crossed himself and trembled, lest in very 
wantonness they aim their magic arrows at his 
heart. Isobel Gowdie confessed at her trial 
to having fired in this manner at the Laird of 
the Park, as he rode through a ford ; but the 
influence of the running water turned her dart 
aside, and she was soundly cuffed by Bessie 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 53 

Hay, another witch, for her awkwardness in 
choosing such an unpropitious moment. 1 In 
one respect alone this evil sisterhood were all 
in harmony. By charms and spells they re- 
venged themselves terribly on their enemies, 
and inflicted malicious injuries on their friends. 
It was as easy for them to sink a ship in mid- 
ocean as to dry the milk in a cow's udder, or 
to make a strong man pine away while his 
waxen image was consumed inch by inch on 
the witch's smouldering hearth. 

This instinctive belief in evil spells is the 
essence, not of witchcraft only, but of every 
form of superstition, from the days of Thes- 
salian magic to the brutish rites of the Loui- 
siana Voodoo. It has brought to the scaffold 
women of gentle blood, like Janet Douglas, 
Lady Glamis, and to the stake visionary enthu- 
siasts like Jeanne d'Arc. It confronts us from 
every page of history, it stares at us from the 
columns of the daily press. It has provided an 
outlet for fear, hope, love, and hatred, and a 
weapon for every passion that stirs the soul of 
man. It is equally at home in all parts of the 

1 Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. By Sir Walter 
Scott. 



54 BOOKS AND MEN. 

world, and has entered freely into the religion, 
the traditions, and the folk-lore of all nations. 
Actseon flying as a stag from the pursuit of 
his own hounds ; Circe's swinish captives 
groveling at their troughs ; Bjorn turned into 
a bear through the malice of his stepmother, 
and hunted to death by his father, King 
Hring ; the Swans of Lir floating mournfully 
on the icy waters of the Moyle ; the loup- 
garou lurking in the forests of Brittany, and 
the oborot coursing over the Russian steppes ; 
Merlin sleeping in the gloomy depths of Broce- 
liande, and Raknar buried fifty fathoms below 
the coast of Helluland, are alike the victims 

" Of woven paces and of waving hands." 

whether the spell be cast by an outraged divin- 
ity, or by the cruel hand of a malignant foe. 

In 1857, Mr. Newton discovered at Cnidos 
fragments of a buried and ruined chapel, 
sacred to Demeter and Persephone. In it 
were three marble figures of great beauty, 
some small votive images of baked earth, sev- 
eral bronze lamps, and a number of thin leaden 
rolls, pierced with holes for the convenience of 
hanging them around the chapel walls. On 
these rolls were inscribed the dine, or spells, 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 55 

devoting some enemy to the infernal gods, and 
the motive for the suppliant's ill-will was given 
with great naivete and earnestness. One 
woman binds another who has lured away her 
lover ; a second, the enemy who has accused 
her of poisoning her husband ; a third, the 
thief who has stolen her bracelet ; a fourth, 
the man who has robbed her of a favorite 
drinking-horn ; a fifth, the acquaintance who 
has failed to return a borrowed garment ; and 
so on through a long list of grievances. 1 It 
is evident this form of prayer was quite a com- 
mon occurrence, and, as combining a religious 
rite with a comfortable sense of retaliation, 
must have been exceptionally soothing to the 
worshiper's mind. Persephone was appeased 
and their own wrongs atoned for by this simple 
act of devotion ; and would that it were given 
to us now to inscribe, and by inscribing doom, 
all those who have borrowed and failed to re- 
turn our books ; would that by scribbling some 
strong language on a piece of lead we could 
avenge the lamentable gaps on our shelves, 
and send the ghosts of the wrong-doers howling 
dismally into the eternal shades of Tartarus. 
1 The Myth of Demeter and Persephone. By Walter Pater. 



56 BOOKS AND MEN. 

The saddest thing about these faded super- 
stitions is that the very men who have studied 
them most accurately are often least suscep- 
tible to their charms. In their eagerness to 
trace back every myth to a common origin, 
and to prove, with or without reason, that they 
one and all arose from the observation of 
natural phenomena, too many writers either 
overlook entirely the beauty and meaning of 
the tale, or treat it with a contemptuous in- 
difference very hard to understand. Mr. Bar- 
ing-Gould, a most honorable exception to this 
evil rule, takes occasion now and then to deal 
some telling blows at the extravagant theorists 
who persist in maintaining that every tradition 
bears its significance on its surface, and who, 
following up their preconceived opinions, 
cruelly overtax the credulity of their readers. 
He himself has shown conclusively that many 
Aryan myths are but allegorical representa- 
tions of natural forces ; but in these cases the 
connection is always distinctly traced and 
easily understood. It is not hard for any of us 
to perceive the likeness between the worm 
Schamir, the hand of glory, and the lightning, 
when their peculiar properties are so much 



ON THE BENEFITS OF 'SUPERSTITION. 57 

alike : or to behold in the Sleeping Beauty or 
Thorn-Rose the ice-bound earth slumbering 
through the long winter months, until the sun- 
god's kisses win her back to life and warmth. 
But when we are asked to believe that Wil- 
liam Tell is the storm-cloud, with his arrow of 
lightning and his iris bow bent against the sun, 
which is resting like a coin or a golden apple 
on the edge of the horizon, we cannot but feel, 
with the author of Curious Myths, that a little 
too much is exacted from us. " I must pro- 
test," he says, " against the manner in which 
our German friends fasten rapaciously upon 
every atom of history, sacred and profane, and 
demonstrate all heroes to represent the sun ; 
all villains to be the demons of night or win- 
ter ; all sticks and spears and arrows to be the 
lightning ; all cows and sheep and dragons 
and swans to be clouds." 

But then it must be remembered that Mr. 
Baring-Gould is the most tolerant and catholic 
of writers, with hardly a hobby he can call his 
own. Sympathizing with the sad destruction 
of William Tell, he casts a lance in honor of 
Saint George against Reynolds and Gibbon, 
and manifests a lurking weakness for mer- 



58 BOOKS AND MEN 

maids, divining-rods, and the Wandering Jew. 
He is to be congratulated on his early training, 
for he assures us he believed, on the testimony 
of his Devonshire nurse, that all Cornishmen 
had tails, until a Cornish bookseller stoutly 
denied the imputation, and enlightened his in- 
fant mind. He has the rare and happy faculty 
of writing upon all mythical subjects with 
grace, sympathy, and vraisemblance. Even 
when there can be no question of credulity 
either with himself or with his readers, he is 
yet content to write as though for the time he 
believes. Just as Mr. Birrell advises us to lay 
aside our moral sense when we begin the mem- 
oirs of an attractive scamp, and to recall it 
carefully when we have finished, so Mr. Bar- 
ing-Gould generously lays aside his enlightened 
skepticism when he undertakes to tell us about 
sirens and were-wolves, and remembers that he 
is of the nineteenth century only when his 
task is done. 

This is precisely what Mr. John Fiske is un- 
able or unwilling to accomplish. He cannot 
for a moment forget how much better he 
knows ; and instead of an indulgent smile at 
the delightful follies of our ancestors, we de- 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 59 

tect here and there through his very valuable 
pages something unpleasantly like a sneer. 
" Where the modern calmly taps his forehead," 
explains Mr. Fiske, " and says, ' Arrested 
development ! ' the terrified ancient made the 
sign of the cross, and cried, ' Were-wolf ! ' " 1 
Now a more disagreeable object than the 
"modern" tapping his forehead, like Dr. 
Blimber, and offering a sensible elucidation of 
,£very mystery, it would be hard to find. The 
ignorant peasant making his sign of the cross 
is not only more picturesque, but he is more 
companionable, — in books, at least, — and it 
is of far greater interest to try to realize how 
he felt when the specimen of " arrested devel- 
opment " stole past him in the shadow of the 
woods. There is, after all, a mysterious 
horror about the lame boy, — some impish 
changeling of evil parentage, foisted on hell, 
perhaps, as Nadir thrust his earth-born baby 
into heaven, — who every Midsummer Night 
and every Christmas Eve summoned the were- 
wolves to their secret meeting, whence they 
rushed ravenously over the German forests. 
The girdle of human skin, three finger-breadths 

1 Myths and Myihmakers. 



60 BOOKS AND MEN. 

wide, which wrought the transformation ; the 
telltale hairs in the hollow of the hand 
which betrayed the wolfish nature ; the fatality 
which doomed one of every seven sisters to 
this dreadful enchantment, and the trifling- 
accidents which brought about the same un- 
desirable result are so many handles by which 
we grasp the strange emotions that swayed 
the mediaeval man. Jacque Roulet and Jean 
Grenier, 1 as mere maniacs and cannibals, filL 
every heart with disgust ; but as were-wolves 
an awful mystery wraps them round, and the 
mind is distracted from pity for their victims 
to a fascinated consideration of their own 
tragic doom. A blood-thirsty idiot is an ob- 
ject that no one cares to think about ; but a 
wolf-fiend, urged to deeds of violence by an 
impulse he cannot resist, is one of those ghastly 
creations that the folk-lore of every country 
has placed sharply and persistently before our 
startled eyes. Yet surely there is a touch of 
comedy in the story told by Van Halm, of an 
unlucky freemason, who, having divulged the 
secrets of his order, was pursued across the 
Pyrenees by the master of his lodge in the 

1 Booh of Were- Wolves. By Baring-Gould. 



# ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 61 

form of a were-wolf, and escaped only by- 
taking refuge in an empty cottage, and hiding 
under the bed. 

" To us who are nourished from childhood," 
says Mr. Fiske again, " on the truths revealed 
by science, the sky is known to be merely an 
optical appearance, due to the partial absorp- 
tion of the solar rays in passing through a 
thick stratum of atmospheric air ; the clouds 
are known to be large masses of watery vapor, 
which descend in rain-drops when sufficiently 
condensed ; and the lightning is known to be 
a flash of light accompanying an electric dis- 
charge." But the blue sky-sea of Aryan folk- 
lore, in which the cloud-flakes floated as stately 
swans, drew many an eye to the contemplation 
of its loveliness, and touched many a heart 
with the sacred charm of beauty. On that 
mysterious sea strange vessels sailed from un- 
known shores, and once a mighty anchor was 
dropped by the sky mariners, and fell right 
into a little English graveyard, to the great 
amazement of the humble congregation just 
coming out from church. The sensation of 
freedom and space afforded by this conception 
of the heavens is a delicious contrast to the 
conceit of the Persian poet, — ■ 



62 BOOKS AND MEN. 

" That inverted Bowl they call the Sky, 
Whereunder crawling cooped we live and die ; ' ' 

or to the Semitic legend, which described the 
firmament as made of hammered plate, with 
little windows for rain, — a device so poor and 
barbaric, that we wonder how any man could 
look up into the melting blue and admit such 
a sordid fancy into his soul. 

" Scientific knowledge, even in the most 
modest men," confesses Dr. Oliver Wendell 
Holmes, " has mingled with it something 
which partakes of insolence. Absolute, per- 
emptory facts are bullies, and those who keep 
company with them are apt to get a bullying 
habit of mind." Such an admission from so 
genial and kindly a source should suffice to 
put us all on the defensive. It is not agree- 
able to be bullied even upon those matters 
which are commonly classed as facts ; but when 
we come to the misty region of dreams and 
myths and superstitions, let us remember, 
with Lamb, that " we do not know the laws of 
that country," and with him generously for- 
bear to " set down our ancestors in the gross 
for fools." We have lost forever the fantasies 
that enriched them. Not for us are the pink 



ON THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTITION. 63 

and white lions that gamboled in the land of 
Prester John, nor his onyx floors, imparting 
courage to all who trod on them. Not for us 
the Terrestrial Paradise, with its " Welle of 
Youthe, whereat thei that drynken semen alle 
weys yongly, and lyven withouten sykeness ; " 1 
nor the Fortunate Isles beyond the Western 
Sea, where spring was ever green; where 
youths and maidens danced hand in hand on 
the dewy grass, where the cows ungrudgingly 
gave milk enough to fill whole ponds instead of 
milking-pails, and where wizards and usurers 
could never hope to enter. The doors of these 
enchanted spots are closed upon us, and their 
key, like Excalibur, lies hidden where no hand 
can grasp it. 

" The whole wide world is painted gray on gray, 
And Wonderland forever is gone past." 

All we can do is to realize our loss with be- 
coming modesty, and now and then cast back 
a wistful glance 

" where underneath 
The shelter of the quaint kiosk, there sigh 
A troup of Fancy's little China Dolls, 

Who dream and dream, with damask round their loins, 

And in their hands a golden tulip flower.' ' 

1 Travels of Sir John Mandeville. 



WHAT CHILDREN EEAD. 

It is part of the irony of life that our dis- 
criminating taste for books should be built 
up on the ashes of an extinct enjoyment. We 
spend a great deal of our time in learning what 
literature is good, and a great deal more in at- 
tuning our minds to its reception, rightly con- 
vinced that, by the training of our intellectual 
faculties, we are unlocking one of the doors 
through which sweetness and light may enter. 
We are fond of reading, too, and have always 
maintained with Macaulay that we would 
rather be a poor man with books than a great 
king without, though luckily for out resolu- 
tion, and perhaps for his, such a choice has 
never yet been offered. Books, we say, are 
our dearest friends, and so, with true friendly 
acuteness, we are prompt to discover their 
faults, and take great credit in our ingenuity. 
But all this time, somewhere about the house, 
curled up, may be, in a nursery window, or 
hidden in a freezing attic, a child is poring 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 65 

over The Three Musketeers, lost to any con- 
sciousness of his surroundings, incapable of an- 
alyzing his emotions, breathless with mingled 
fear and exultation over his heroes' varying 
fortunes, and drinking in a host of vivid im- 
pressions that are absolutely ineffaceable from 
his mind. We cannot read in that fashion 
any longer, but we only wish we could. 
Thackeray used to sigh in middle age over the 
lost delights of five shillings' worth of pastry ; 
but what was the pleasure of eating tarts to 
the glamour cast over us by our first romance, 
to the enchanted hours we spent with Sintram 
by the sea-shore, or with Nydia in the dark- 
ened streets of Pompeii, or perhaps — if we 
were not too carefully watched — with Emily 
in those dreadful vaults beneath Udolpho's 
walls ! 

Nor is it fiction only that strongly excites 
the imagination of a child. History is not to 
him what it is to us, a tangle of disputed 
facts, doubtful theories, and conflicting evi- 
dence. He grasps its salient points with sim- 
ple directness, absorbs them into his mind 
with tolerable accuracy, and passes judgment 
on them with enviable ease. To him, histori- 



66 BOOKS AND MEN. 

cal characters are at least as real as those of 
romance, which they are very far from being 
to us, and he enters into their impressions and 
motives with a facile sympathy which we 
rarely feel. Not only does he firmly believe 
that Marcus Curtius leaped into the gulf, but 
he has not yet learned to question the expedi- 
ency of the act ; and, having never been en- 
lightened by Mr. Grote, the black broth of 
Lykurgus is as much a matter of fact to him 
as the bread and butter upon his own break- 
fast table. Sir Walter Scott tells us that even 
the dinner-bell — most welcome sound to boy- 
ish ears — failed to win him from his rapt pe- 
rusal of Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry ; 
but Gibbon, as a lad, found the passage of the 
Goths over the Danube just as engrossing, 
and, stifling the pangs of hunger, preferred to 
linger fasting in their company. The great 
historian's early love for history has furnished 
Mr. Bagehot with one more proof of the fasci- 
nation of such records for the youthful mind, 
and he bids us at the same time consider from 
what a firm and tangible standpoint it regards 
them. " Youth," he writes, " has a principle 
of consolidation. In history, the whole comes 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 67 

in boyhood ; the details later, and in manhood. 
The wonderful series going far back to the 
times of old patriarchs with their flocks and 
herds, the keen-eyed Greek, the stately Roman, 
the watchful Jew, the uncouth Goth, the hor- 
rid Hun, the settled picture of the unchanging 
East, the restless shifting of the rapid West, 
the rise of the cold and classical civilization, 
its fall, the rough, impetuous Middle Ages, 
the vague warm picture of ourselves and home, 
— when did we learn these ? Not yesterday, 
nor to-day, but long ago, in the first dawn of 
reason, in the original flow of fancy. What 
we learn afterwards are but the accurate little- 
nesses of the great topic, the dates and tedious 
facts. Those who begin late learn only these ; 
but the happy first feel the mystic associations 
and the progress of the whole." l 

If this be true, and the child's mind be not 
only singularly alive to new impressions, but 
quick to concentrate its knowledge into a con- 
sistent whole, the value and importance of his 
early reading can hardly be overestimated. 
That much anxiety has been felt upon the sub- 
ject is proven by the cry of self -congratulation 

1 Literary Studies, vol. ii. 



68 BOOKS AND MEN. 

that rises on every side of us to-day. We are 
on the right track at last, the press and the 
publishers assure us ; and with tons of healthy 
juvenile literature flooding the markets every 
year, our American boys and girls stand fully 
equipped for the intellectual battles of life. 
But if we will consider the matter in a dis- 
passionate and less boastful light, we shall 
see that the good accomplished is mainly of a 
negative character. By providing cheap and 
wholesome reading for the young, we have 
partly succeeded in driving from the field that 
which was positively bad ; yet nothing is easier 
than to overdo a reformation, and, through 
the characteristic indulgence of American par- 
ents, children are drugged with a literature 
whose chief merit is its harmlessness. These 
little volumes, nicely written, nicely printed, 
and nicely illustrated, are very useful in their 
way ; but they are powerless to awaken a 
child's imagination, or to stimulate his mental 
growth. If stories, they merely introduce 
him to a phase of life with which he is already 
familiar ; if historical, they aim at showing 
him a series of detached episodes, broken pic- 
tures of the mighty whole, shorn of its " mys- 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 69 

tic associations," and stirring within his soul 
no stronger impulse than that of a cheaply 
gratified curiosity. 

Not that children's books are to be neglected 
or contemned. On the contrary, they are al- 
ways helpful, and in the average nursery have 
grown to be a recognized necessity. But when 
supplied with a too lavish hand, a child is 
tempted to read nothing else, and his mind be- 
comes shrunken for lack of a vigorous stimu- 
lant to excite and expand it. " Children," 
wrote Sir Walter Scott, " derive impulses of a 
powerful and important kind from hearing 
things that they cannot entirely comprehend. 
It is a mistake to write down to their under- 
standing. Set them on the scent, and let 
them puzzle it out." . Sir Walter himself, be 
it observed, in common with most little people 
of genius, got along strikingly well without 
any juvenile literature at all. He shouted the 
ballad of Hardyknute, to the great annoyance 
of his aunt's visitors, long before he knew how 
to read, and listened at his grandmother's 
knee to her stirring tales about Watt of Har- 
den, Wight Willie of Aikwood, Jamie Telfer 
of the fair Dodhead, and a host of border 



70 BOOKS AND MEN 

heroes whose picturesque robberies were the 
glory of their sober and respectable descend- 
ants. Two or three old books which lay in the 
window-seat were explored for his amusement 
in the dreary winter days. Ramsay's Tea-Ta- 
ble Miscellany, a mutilated copy of Josephus, 
and Pope's translation of the Iliad appear to 
have been his favorites, until, when about 
eight years old, a happy chance threw him 
under the spell of the two great poets who 
have swayed most powerfully the pliant imag- 
inations of the young. " I found," he writes 
in his early memoirs, " within my mother's 
dressing-room (where I slept at one time) 
some odd volumes of Shakespeare ; nor can I 
easily forget the rapture with which I sate up 
in my shirt reading them by the light of a fire 
in her apartment, until the bustle of the family 
rising from supper warned me it was time to 
creep back to my bed, where I was supposed 
to have been safely deposited since nine 
o'clock." And a little later he adds, " Spen- 
ser I could have read forever. Too young to 
trouble myself about the allegory, I consid- 
ered all the knights, and ladies, and dragons, 
and giants in their outward and exoteric sense, 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 71 

and Heaven only knows how delighted I was 
to find myself in such society ! " 

" How much of our poetry," it has been 
asked, " owes its start to Spenser, when the 
Fairy Queen was a household book, and lay in 
the parlor window T -seat ? " And how many 
brilliant fancies have emanated from those 
same window-seats, which Montaigne so keen- 
ly despised ? There, where the smallest child 
could climb with ease, lay piled up in a cor- 
ner, within the reach of his little hands, the 
few precious volumes which perhaps comprised 
the literary wealth of the household. Those 
were not days when over-indulgence and a 
multiplicity of books robbed reading of its 
healthy zest. We know that in the window- 
seat of Cowley's mother's room lay a copy of 
the Fairy Queen, which to her little son was a 
source of unfailing delight, and Pope has re- 
corded the ecstasy with which, as a lad, he 
pored over this wonderful poem ; but then 
neither Cowley nor Pope had the advantage 
of following Oliver Optic through the slums 
of New York, or living with some adventur- 
ous " boy hunters " in the jungles of Central 
Africa. On the other hand, there is a deli- 



72 BOOKS AND MEN. 

cious account of Bentham, in his early child- 
hood, climbing to the height of a huge stool, 
and sitting there night after night reading 
Rapin's history by the light of two candles ; a 
weird little figure, whose only counterpart in 
literature is the small John Ruskin propped 
up solemnly in his niche, " like an idol," and 
hemmed in from the family reach by the table 
on which his book reposed. It is quite evi- 
dent that Bentham found the mental nutrition 
he wanted in Rapin's rather dreary pages, 
just as Pope and Cowley found it in Spenser, 
Ruskin in the Iliad, and Burns in the marvel- 
ous stories told by that " most ignorant and 
superstitious old woman," who made the poet 
afraid of his own shadow, and who, as 
he afterwards freely acknowledged, fanned 
within his soul the kindling flame of genius. 

Look where we will, we find the author's 
future work reflected in the intellectual pas- 
times of his childhood. Madame de Genlis, 
when but six years old, perused with un- 
flagging interest the ten solid volumes of 
Clelie, — a task which would appall the most 
stout-hearted novel-reader of to-day. Gibbon 
turned as instinctively to facts as Scott and 



WHAT CHILDREN BEAD. 73 

Burns to fiction. Macaulay surely learned 
from his beloved iEneid the art of presenting 
a dubious statement with all the vigorous col- 
oring of truth. Wordsworth congratulated 
himself and Coleridge that, as children, they 
had ranged at will 

1 ' through vales 
Rich with indigenous produce, open grounds 
Of fancy ; » 

Coleridge, in his turn, was wont to express 
his sense of superiority over those who had 
not read fairy tales when they were young, 
and Charles Lamb, who was plainly of the 
same way of thinking, wrote to him hotly on 
the subject of the " cursed Barbauld crew," 
and demanded how he would ever have be- 
come a poet, if, instead of being fed with 
tales and old wives' fables in his infancy, he 
had been crammed with geography, natural 
history, and other useful information. What 
a picture we have of Cardinal Newman's sen- 
sitive and flexible mind in these few words 
which bear witness to his childish musings ! 
" I used to wish," he says in the third chapter 
of the Apologia, "that the Arabian Nights 
were true ; my imagination ran on unknown 



74 BOOKS AND MEN. 

influences, on magical powers and talismans. 
... I thought life might be a dream, or I 
an angel, and all the world a deception, my 
fellow angels, by a playful device, concealing 
themselves from me, and deceiving me with 
the semblance of a material world." Along- 
side of this poetic revelation may be placed 
Cobbett's sketch of himself : a sturdy country 
lad of eleven, in a blue smock and red gar- 
ters, standing before the bookseller's shop in 
Richmond, with an empty stomach, three- 
pence in his pocket, and a certain little book 
called The Tale of a Tub contending with his 
hunger for the possession of that last bit of 
money. In the end, mind conquered matter : 
the threepence was invested in the volume, 
and the homeless little reader curled himself 
under a haystack, and forgot all about his 
supper in the strange, new pleasure he was 
enjoying. " The book was so different," he 
writes, " from anything that I had ever read 
before, it was something so fresh to my mind, 
that, though I could not understand some 
parts of it, it delighted me beyond descrip- 
tion, and produced what I have always consid- 
ered a sort of birth of intellect. I read on till 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 75 

it was dark, without any thought of food or 
bed. When I could see no longer, I put my 
little book in my pocket and tumbled down 
by the side of the stack, where I slept till the 
birds of Kew Gardens awakened me in the 
morning. ... I carried that volume about 
with me wherever I went ; and when I lost it 
in a box that fell overboard in the Bay of 
Fundy, the loss gave me greater pain than I 
have since felt at losing thousands of pounds." 
As for Lamb's views on the subject of 
early reading, they are best expressed in his 
triumphant vindication of Bridget Elia's hap- 
pily neglected education : " She was tumbled 
by accident or design into a spacious closet of 
good old English books, without much selec- 
tion or prohibition, and browsed at will upon 
that fair and wholesome pasturage. Had I 
twenty girls they should be brought up ex- 
actly in this fashion." It is natural that but 
few parents are anxious to risk so hazardous 
an experiment, especially as the training of 
" incomparable old maids " is hardly the rec- 
ognized summit of maternal ambition; but 
Bridget Elia at least ran no danger of intel- 
lectual starvation, while, if we pursue a mod- 



76 BOOKS AND MEN. 

ern school-girl along the track of her self- 
chosen reading, we shall be astonished that so 
much printed matter can yield so little mental 
nourishment. She has begun, no doubt, with 
childish stories, bright and well-written, 
probably, but following each other in such 
quick succession that none of them have left 
any distinct impression on her mind. Books 
that children read but once are of scant ser- 
vice to them; those that have really helped 
to warm our imaginations and to train our 
faculties are the few old friends we know 
so well that they have become a portion of 
our thinking selves. At ten or twelve the 
little girl aspires to something partly grown- 
up, to those nondescript tales which, trem- 
bling ever on the brink of sentiment, seem 
afraid to risk the plunge ; and with her appe- 
tite whetted by a course of this unsatisfying 
diet, she is soon ripe for a little more excite- 
ment and a great deal more love-making, 
so graduates into Rhoda Broughton and the 
" Duchess," at which point her intellectual 
career is closed. She has no idea, even, of 
what she has missed in the world of books. 
She tells you that she " don 't care for Dick- 



o 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 77 

ens," and " can't get interested in Scott," 
with a placidity that plainly shows she lays 
the blame for this state of affairs on the two 
great masters who have amused and charmed 
the world. As for Northanger Abbey, or 
Emma, she would as soon think of finding 
entertainment in Henry Esmond. She has 
probably never read a single masterpiece of 
our language ; she has never been moved by a 
noble poem, or stirred to the quick by a well- 
told page of history ; she has never opened 
the pores of her mind for the reception of a 
vigorous thought, or the solution of a mental 
problem ; yet she may be found daily in the 
circulating library, and is seldom visible on 
the street without a book or two under her 
arm. 

" In the love-novels all the heroines are very 
desperate," wrote little Marjorie Fleming in 
her diary, nearly eighty years ago, and added 
somewhat plaintively, " Isabella will not allow 
me to speak of lovers and heroins," — yearn- 
ing, as we can see, over the forbidden topic, 
and mutable in her spelling, as befits her ten- 
der age. But what books had she read, this 
bright-eyed, healthy, winsome little girl, — 



78 BOOKS AND MEN, 

eight years old when she died, — the favorite 
companion of Sir Walter Scott, and his com- 
fort in many a moment of fatigue and depres- 
sion ? We can follow her path easily enough, 
thanks to those delicious, misspelt scrawls in 
which she has recorded her childish verdicts. 
" Thomson is a beautiful author," she writes 
at six, " and Pope, but nothing to Shakespear, 
of which I have a little knolege. Macbeth is 
a pretty composition, but awful one. . . . The 
Newgate Calender is very instructive." And 
again, " Tom Jones and Grey's Elegy in a 
country churchyard," surely never classed to- 
gether before, " are both excellent, and much 
spoke of by both sex, particularly by the 
men. . . . Doctor Swift's works are very 
funny ; I got some of them by heart. . . . 
Miss Egward's [Edgeworth's] tails are very 
good, particularly some that are much adapted 
for youth, as Laz Lawrance and Tarleton." 
Then with a sudden jump, " I am reading the 
Mysteries of Udolpho. I am much interested 
in the fate of poor poor Emily. . . . More- 
head's sermons are, I hear, much praised, but 
I never read sermons of any kind ; but I read 
novelettes and my Bible, and I never forget 
it or my prayers." 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 79 

It is apparent that she read a great deal 
which would now hardly be considered desir- 
able for little girls, but who can quarrel with 
the result ? Had the bright young mind been 
starved on Dotty Dimple and Little Prudy 
books, we might have missed the quaintest bit 
of autobiography in the English tongue, those 
few scattered pages which, with her scraps of 
verse and tender little letters, were so care- 
fully preserved by a loving sister after Pet 
Maidie's death. Far too young and innocent 
to be harmed by Tom Jones or the " funny " 
Doctor Swift, we may perhaps doubt whether 
she had penetrated very deeply into the New- 
gate Calendar, notwithstanding a further as- 
sertion on her part that " the history of all the 
malcontents as ever was hanged is amusing." 
But that she had the " little knolege " she 
boasted of Shakespeare is proven by the fact 
that her recitations from King John affected 
Scott, to use his own words, " as nothing else 
could do." He would sob outright when the 
little creature on his knee repeated, quivering 
with suppressed emotion, those heart-breaking 
words of Constance : — 



80 BOOKS AND MEN. 

" For I am sick and capable of fears, 
Oppressed with wrong-, and therefore full of fears; " 

and, knowing the necessity of relaxing a mind 
so highly wrought, he took good care that she 
should not be without healthy childish read- 
ing. We have an amusing picture of her con- 
soling herself with fairy tales, when exiled, 
for her restlessness, to the foot of her sister's 
bed ; and one of the first copies of Rosamond, 
and Harry and Lucy found its way to Mar- 
jorie Fleming, with Sir Walter Scott's name 
written on the fly-leaf. 

Fairy tales, and Harry and Lucy ! But the 
real, old-fashioned, earnest, half-sombre fairy 
tales of our youth have slipped from the hands 
of children into those of folk-lore students, 
who are busy explaining all their flavor out of 
them ; while as for Miss Edgeworth, the little 
people of to-day cannot be persuaded that she 
is not dull and prosy. Yet what keen plea- 
sure have her stories given to generations of 
boys and girls, who in their time have grown 
to be clever men and women! Hear what 
Miss Thackeray, that loving student of chil- 
dren and of childish ways, has to record about 
them. " When I look back," she writes, 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 81 

" upon my own youth, I seem to have lived in 
company with a delightful host of little play- 
mates, bright, busy children, whose cheerful 
presence remains more vividly in my mind 
than that of many of the real little boys and 
girls who used to appear and disappear discon- 
nectedly, as children do in childhood, when 
friendship and companionship depend almost 
entirely upon the convenience of grown-up 
people. Now and again came little cousins or 
friends to share our games, but day by day, 
constant and unchanging, ever to be relied 
upon, smiled our most lovable and friendly 
companions: simple Susan, lame Jervas, the 
dear little merchants, Jem, the widow's son, 
with his arms around old Lightfoot's neck, 
the generous Ben, with his whip-cord and his 
useful proverb of ; Waste not, want not,' — 
all of these were there in the window corner 
waiting our pleasure. After Parents' Assist- 
ant, to which familiar words we attached no 
meaning whatever, came Popular Tales in big 
brown volumes off a shelf in the lumber-room 
of an apartment in an old house in Paris ; and 
as we opened the books, lo ! creation widened 
to our view. England, Ireland, America, 



82 BOOKS AND MEN. 

Turkey, the mines of Golconda, the streets of 
Bagdad, thieves, travelers, governesses, natural 
philosophy, and fashionable life were all laid 
under contribution, and brought interest and 
adventure to our humdrum nursery corner." 1 

And have these bright and varied pictures, 
" these immortal tales," as Mr. Matthew Ar- 
nold termed them, lost their power to charm, 
that they are banished from our modern 
nursery corners ; or is it because their didactic 
purpose is too thinly veiled, or — as I have 
sometimes fancied — because their authoress 
took so moderate a view of children's func- 
tions and importance ? If we place Miss Edge- 
worth's and Miss Alcott's stories side by side, 
we shall see that the contrast between them 
lies not so much in the expected dissimilarity 
of style and incident as in the utterly different 
standpoint from which their writers regard the 
aspirations and responsibilities of childhood. 
Take, for instance, Miss Edgeworth's Rosa- 
mond and Miss Alcott's Eight Cousins, both 
of them books purporting to show the gradual 
development of a little girl's character under 
kindly and stimulating influences. Rosamond, 
1 A Book of Sibyls. 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 83 

who is said to be a portrait of Maria Edge- 
worth herself, is from first to last the undis- 
puted heroine of the volume which bears her 
name. Laura may be much wiser, Godfrey- 
far more clever ; but neither of them usurps 
for a moment their sister's place as the cen- 
tral figure of the narrative, round whom our 
interest clings. But when we come to con- 
sider her position in her own family, we find 
it strangely insignificant. The foolish, warm- 
hearted, impetuous little girl is of importance 
to the household only through the love they 
bear her. It is plain her opinions do not 
carry much weight, and she is never called on 
to act as an especial providence to any one. 
We do not behold her winning Godfrey away 
from his cigar, or Orlando from fast compan- 
ions, or correcting anybody's faults, in fact, 
except her own, which are numerous enough, 
and give her plenty of concern. 

Now with Rose, the bright little heroine of 
Eight Cousins, and of its sequel A Rose in 
Bloom, everything is vastly different. She is 
of the utmost importance to all the grown-up 
people in the book, most of whom, it must be 
acknowledged, are extremely silly and inca- 



84 BOOKS AND MEN. 

pable. Her aunts set the very highest value 
upon her society, and receive it with gratified 
rapture ; while among her male cousins she is 
from the first like a missionary in the Feejees. 
It is she who cures them of their boyish vices, 
obtaining in return from their supine mothers 
" a vote of thanks, which made her feel as if 
she had done a service to her country." At 
thirteen she discovers that " girls are made to 
take care of boys," and with dauntless assur- 
ance sets about her self-appointed task. " You 
boys need somebody to look after you," she 
modestly announces, — most of them are her 
seniors, by the way, and all have parents, — 
" so I 'm going to do it ; for girls are nice 
peacemakers, and know how to manage peo- 
ple." Naturally, to a young person holding 
these advanced views of life, Miss Edgeworth's 
limited field of action seems a very spiritless 
affair, and we find Rose expressing herself with 
characteristic energy on the subject of the 
purple jar, declaring that Rosamond's mother 
was " regularly mean," and that she " always 
wanted to shake that woman, though she was 
a model mamma " ! As we read the audacious 
words, we half expect to see, rising from the 



WHAT CHILDREN BEAD. 85 

mists of story-book land, the indignant ghost 
of little English Rosamond, burning to defend, 
with all her old impetuosity, the mother whom 
she so dearly loved. It is true, she had no 
sense of a " mission," this commonplace but 
very amusing little girl. She never, like Rose, 
adopted a pauper infant, or made friends with 
a workhouse orphan ; she never vetoed pretty 
frocks in favor of philanthropy, or announced 
that she would "have nothing to do with love 
until she could prove that she was something 
beside a housekeeper and a baby-tender." In 
fact, she was probably taught that love and 
matrimony and babies were not proper sub- 
jects for discussion in the polite society for 
which she was so carefully reared. The hints 
that are given her now and then on such mat- 
ters by no means encourage a free expression 
of any unconventional views. " It is particu- 
larly amiable in a woman to be ready to yield, 
and avoid disputing about trifles," says Rosa- 
mond's father, who plainly does not consider 
his child in the light of a beneficent genius ; 
while, when she reaches her teens, she is de- 
scribed as being " just at that age when girls 
do not join in conversation, but when they sit 



86 BOOKS AND MEN. 

modestly silent, and have leisure, if they have 
sense, to judge of what others say, and to 
form by choice, and not by chance, their opin- 
ions of what goes on in that great world into 
which they have not yet entered." 

And is it really only ninety years since this 
delicious sentence was penned in sober earnest, 
as representing an existing state of things ! 
There is an antique, musty, long - secluded 
flavor about it, that would suggest a mono- 
graph copied from an Egyptian tomb with 
thirty centuries of dust upon its hoary head. 
Yet Rosamond, sitting " modestly silent " un- 
der the delusion that grown-up people are 
worth listening to, can talk fluently enough 
when occasion demands it, though at all times 
her strength lies rather in her heart than in 
her head. She represents that tranquil, un- 
questioning, unselfish family love, which Miss 
Edgeworth could describe so well because she 
felt it so sincerely. The girl who had three 
stepmothers and nineteen brothers and sisters, 
and managed to be fond of them all, should 
be good authority on the subject of domestic 
affections ; and that warm, happy, loving at- 
mosphere which charms us in her stories, and 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 87 

which brought tears to Sir Walter Scott's eyes 
when he laid down Simple Susan, is only the 
reflection of the cheerful home life she stead- 
fastly helped to brighten. 

Her restrictions as a writer are perhaps 
most felt by those who admire her most. Her 
pet virtue — after prudence — is honesty ; and 
yet how poor a sentiment it becomes under her 
treatment ! — no virtue at all, in fact, but 
merely a policy working for its own gain. 
Take the long conversation between the little 
Italian merchants on the respective merits of 
integrity and sharpness in their childish traffic. 
Each disputant exhausts his wits in trying to 
prove the superior wisdom of his own course, 
but not once does the virtuous Francisco make 
use of the only argument which is of any real 
value, — I do not cheat because it is not right. 
There is more to be learned about honesty, 
real unselfish, unrequited honesty, in Charles 

Lamb's little sketch of Barbara S than in 

all Miss Edgeworth has written on the subject 
in a dozen different tales. 

" Taking up one's cross does not at all mean 
having ovations at dinner parties, and being 
put over everybody else's head," says Ruskin, 



88 BOOKS AND MEN. 

with visible impatience at the smooth and easy 
manner in which Miss Edgeworth persists in 
grinding the mills of the gods, and distribu- 
ting poetical justice to each and every comer. 
It may be very nice to see the generous Laura, 
who gave away her half sovereign, extolled to 
the skies by a whole room full of company, 
" disturbed for the purpose," while " poor dear 
little Rosamond " — he too has a weakness 
for this small blunderer — is left in the lurch, 
without either shoes or jar ; but it is not real 
generosity that needs so much commendation, 
and it is not real life that can be depended on 
for giving it. Yet Ruskin admits that Harry 
and Lucy were his earliest friends, to the ex- 
tent even of inspiring him with an ambitious 
desire to continue their history ; and he cannot 
say too much in praise of an authoress " whose 
every page is so full and so delightful. I can 
read her over and over again, without ever 
tiring. No one brings you into the company 
of pleasanter or wiser people ; no one tells 
you more truly how to do right." 1 

He might have added that no one ever was 
more moderate in her exactions. The little 

1 Ethics of the Dust. 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 89 

people who brighten Miss Edgeworth's pages 
are not expected, like the children in more re- 
cent books, to take upon their shoulders a load 
of grown-up duties and responsibilities. Life 
is simplified for them by an old-fashioned habit 
of trusting in the wisdom of their parents ; 
and these parents, instead of being foolish and 
wrong-headed, so as to set off more strikingly 
the child's sagacious energy, are apt to be very 
sensible and kind, and remarkably well able 
to take care of themselves and their families. 
This is the more refreshing because, after read- 
ing a few modern stories, either English or 
American, one is troubled with serious doubts 
as to the moral usefulness of adults ; and we 
begin to feel that as we approach the age of 
Mentor it behooves us to find some wise young 
Telemachus who will consent to be our pro- 
tector and our guide. There is no more charm- 
ing writer for the young than Flora Shaw; 
yet Hector and Phyllis Browne, and even that 
group of merry Irish children in Castle Blair, 
are all convinced it is their duty to do some 
difficult or dangerous work in the interests of 
humanity, and all are afflicted with a prema- 
ture consciousness of social evils. 



90 BOOKS AND MEN. 

" The time is out of joint ; oh, cursed spite ! 
That ever I was born to set it right ! ' ' 

cries Hamlet wearily ; but it is at thirty, and 
not at thirteen, that he makes this unpleasant 
discovery. 

In religious stories, of which there are many 
hundreds published every year, these peculiar 
views are even more defined, presenting them- 
selves often in the form of a spiritual contest 
between highly endowed, sensitive children 
and their narrow-minded parents and guar- 
dians, who, of course, are always in the wrong. 
The clever authoress of Thrown Together is 
by no means innocent of this unwholesome 
tone ; but the chief offender, and one who has 
had a host of dismal imitators, is Susan War- 
ner, — Miss Wetherell, — who plainly consid- 
ered that virtue, especially in the young, was 
of no avail unless constantly undergoing per- 
secution. Her supernaturally righteous little 
girls, who pin notes on their fathers' dressing- 
tables, requesting them to become Christians, 
and who endure the most brutal treatment — 
at their parents' hands — rather than sing 
songs on Sunday evening, are equaled only by 
her older heroines, who divide their time im- 



WHAT CHILDREN READ. 91 

partially between flirting and praying, between 
indiscriminate kisses and passionate searching 
for light. A Blackwood critic declares that 
there is more kissing done in The Old Hel- 
met than in all of Sir Walter Scott's novels 
put together, and utters an energetic protest 
against the penetrating glances, and earnest 
pressing of hands, and brotherly embraces, 
and the whole vulgar paraphernalia of pious 
flirtation, so immeasurably hurtful to the un- 
disciplined fancy of the young. " They have 
good reason to expect," he growls, " from these 
pictures of life, that if they are very good, and 
very pious, and very busy in doing grown-up 
work, when they reach the mature age of six- 
teen or so, some young gentleman who has 
been in love with them all along will declare 
himself at the very nick of time ; and they 
may then look to find themselves, all the strug- 
gles of life over, reposing a weary head on his 
stalwart shoulder. . . . Mothers, never in great 
favor with novelists, are sinking deeper and 
deeper in their black books, — there is a posi- 
tive jealousy of their influence ; while the 
father in the religious tale, as opposed to the 
moral or sentimental, is commonly either a 



92 BOOKS AND MEN. 

scamp or nowhere. The heroine has, so to 
say, to do her work single-handed." 

In some of these stories, moreover, the end 
justifies the means to an alarming extent. 
Girls who steal money from their relatives in 
order to go as missionaries among the Indians, 
and young women who pretend to sit up with 
the sick that they may slip off unattended to 
hear some inspired preacher in a barn, are not 
safe companions even in books ; while, if no 
grave indiscretion be committed, the lesson of 
self-righteousness is taught on every page. 
Not very long ago I had the pleasure of read- 
ing a tale in which the youthful heroine con- 
siders it her mission in life to convert her 
grandparents ; and while there is nothing to 
prevent an honest girl from desiring such a 
thing, the idea is not a happy one for a narra- 
tive, in view of certain homely old adages irre- 
sistibly associated with the notion. " Girls," 
wrote Hannah More, " should be led to dis- 
trust their own judgment ; " but if they have 
the conversion of their grandparents on their 
hands, how can they afford to be distrustful ? 
Hannah More is unquestionably out of date, 
and so, we fear, is that English humorist who 



WHAT CHILDREN BEAD. 93 

said, " If all the grown-up people in the world 
should suddenly fail, what a frightful thing 
would society become, reconstructed by boys! " 
Evidently he had in mind a land given over to 
toffy and foot-ball, but he was strangely mis- 
taken in his notions. Perhaps the carnal lit- 
tle hero of Vice Versa might have managed 
matters in this disgraceful fashion ; but with 
Flora Shaw's earnest children at the helm, so- 
ciety would be reconstructed on a more serious 
basis than it is already, and Heaven knows 
this is not a change of which we stand in need. 
In fact, if the young people who live and 
breathe around us are one third as capable, as 
strenuous, as clear-sighted, as independent, as 
patronizing, and as undeniably our superiors as 
their modern counterparts in literature, who 
can doubt that the eternal cause of progress 
would be furthered by the change ? And is 
it, after all, mere pique which inclines us to 
Miss Edgeworth's ordinary little boys and 
girls, who, standing half dazed on the thresh- 
old of life, stretch out their hands with child- 
ish confidence for help ? 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 

That useful little phrase, " the complexity 
of modern thought," has been so hard worked 
of late years that it seems like a refinement of 
cruelty to add to its obligations. Begotten by 
the philosophers, born of the essayists, and 
put out to nurse among the novel-writers, it 
has since been apprenticed to the whole body 
of scribblers, and drudges away at every trade 
in literature. How, asks Vernon Lee, can we 
expect our fiction to be amusing, when a psy- 
chological and sympathetic interest has driven 
away the old hard-hearted spirit of comedy ? 
How, asks Mr. Pater, can Sebastian Van Stork 
make up his mind to love and marry and work 
like ordinary mortals, when the many-sided- 
ness of life has wrought in him a perplexed 
envy of those quiet occupants of the church- 
yard, " whose deceasing was so long since 
over " ? How, asks George Eliot, can Mrs. 
Pullet weep with uncontrolled emotion over 
Mrs. Sutton's dropsy, when it behooves her 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 95 

not to crush her sleeves or stain her bonnet- 
strings ? The problem is repeated everywhere, 
either in mockery or deadly earnestness, ac- 
cording to the questioner's disposition, and the 
old springs of simple sentiment are drying 
fast within us. It is heartless to laugh, it is 
foolish to cry, it is indiscreet to love, it is mor- 
bid to hate, and it is intolerant to espouse any 
cause with enthusiasm. 

There was a time, and not so many years 
ago, when men and women found no great 
difficulty in making up their minds on ordinary 
matters, and their opinions, if erroneous, were 
at least succinct and definite. Nero was then 
a cruel tyrant, the Duke of Wellington a 
great soldier, Sir Walter Scott the first of 
novelists, and the French Revolution a villain- 
ous piece of business. Now we are equally 
enlightened and confused by the keen re- 
searches and shifting verdicts with which his- 
torians and critics seek to dispel this comfort- 
able frame of darkness. Nero, perhaps, had 
the good of his subjects secretly at heart when 
he expressed that benevolent desire to dispatch 
them all at a blow, and Robespierre was but a 
practical philanthropist, carried, it may be, a 



96 BOOKS AND MEN. 

little too far by the stimulating influences of 
the hour. " We have palliations of Tiberius, 
eulogies of Henry VIII., and devotional exer- 
cises to Cromwell," observes Mr. Bagehot, in 
some perplexity as to where this state of 
things may find an ending ; and he confesses 
that in the mean time his own original notions 
of right and wrong are growing sadly hazy 
and uncertain. Moreover, in proportion as 
the heavy villains of history assume a chas- 
tened and ascetic appearance, its heroes dwin- 
dle perceptibly into the commonplace, and its 
heroines are stripped of every alluring grace ; 
while as for the living men who are controlling 
the destinies of nations, not even Macaulay's 
ever useful schoolboy is too small and ignorant 
to refuse them homage. Yet we read of Scott, 
in the zenith of his fame, standing silent and 
abashed before the Duke of Wellington, un- 
able, and perhaps unwilling, to shake off the 
awe that paralyzed his tongue. " The Duke 
possesses every one mighty quality of the 
mind in a higher degree than any other man 
either does or has ever done ! " exclaimed Sir 
Walter to John Ballantyne, who, not being 
framed for hero-worship, failed to appreciate 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 97 

his friend's extraordinary enthusiasm. While 
we smile at the sentiment, — knowing, of 
course, so much better ourselves, — we feel 
an envious admiration of the happy man who 
uttered it. 

There is a curious little incident which Mrs. 
Lockhart used to relate, in after years, as a 
proof of her father's emotional temperament, 
and of the reverence with which he regarded 
all that savored of past or present greatness. 
When the long-concealed Scottish regalia were 
finally brought to light, and exhibited to the 
public of Edinburgh, Scott, who had previously 
been one of the committee chosen to unlock 
the chest, took his daughter to see the royal 
jewels. She was then a girl of fifteen, and 
her nerves had been so wrought upon by all 
that she had heard on the subject that, when 
the lid was opened, she felt herself growing 
faint, and withdrew a little from the crowd. 
A light-minded young commissioner, to whom 
the occasion suggested no solemnity, took up 
the crown, and made a gesture as if to place it 
on the head of a lady standing near, when 
Sophia Scott heard her father exclaim passion- 
ately, in a voice " something between anger 



98 BOOKS AND MEN. 

and despair," " By G — , no ! " The gentle- 
man, much embarrassed, immediately replaced 
the diadem, and Sir Walter, turning aside, 
saw his daughter, deadly pale, leaning against 
the door, and led her at once into the open 
air. " He never spoke all the way home," 
she added, ci but every now and then I felt his 
arm tremble ; and from that time I fancied he 
began to treat me more like a woman than a 
child. I thought he liked me better, too, than 
he had ever done before." 

The whole scene, as we look back upon it 
now, is a quaint illustration of how far a 
man's emotions could carry him, when they 
were nourished alike by the peculiarities of 
his genius and of his education. The feeling 
was doubtless an exaggerated one, but it was 
at least nobler than the speculative humor 
with which a careless crowd now calculates 
the market value of the crown jewels in the 
Tower of London. " What they would bring " 
was a thought which we may be sure never 
entered Sir Walter's head, as he gazed with 
sparkling eyes on the modest regalia of Scot- 
land, and conjured up every stirring drama in 
which they had played their part. For him 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 99 

each page of his country's history was the sub- 
ject of close and loving scrutiny. All those 
Davids, and Williams, and Malcolms, about 
whom we have an indistinct notion that they 
spent their lives in being bullied by their 
neighbors and badgered by their subjects, 
were to his mind as kingly as Charlemagne 
on his Throne of the West ; and their crimes 
and struggles and brief glorious victories were 
part of the ineffaceable knowledge of his boy- 
hood. To feel history in this way, to come 
so close to the world's actors that our pulses 
rise and fall with their vicissitudes, is a better 
thing, after all, than the most accurate and 
reasonable of doubts. I knew two little 
English girls who always wore black frocks on 
the 30th of January, in honor of the " Royal 
Martyr," and tied up their hair with black rib- 
bons, and tried hard to preserve the decent 
gravity of demeanor befitting such a doleful 
anniversary. The same little girls, it must 
be confessed, carried Holmby House to bed 
with them, and bedewed their pillows with 
many tears over the heart-rending descrip- 
tions thereof. What to them were the " out- 
raged liberties of England," which Mr. Gosse 



100 BOOKS AND MEN 

rather vaguely tells us tore King Charles to 
pieces ? They saw him standing on the scaf- 
fold, a sad and princely figure, and they heard 
the frightened sobs that rent the air when the 
cruel deed was done. It is not possible for 
us now to take this picturesque and exclusive 
view of one whose shortcomings have been so 
vigorously raked to light by indignant disci- 
ples of Carlyle ; but the child who has ever 
cried over any great historic tragedy is richer 
for the experience, and stands on higher 
ground than one whose life is bounded by the 
schoolroom walls, or who finds her needful 
stimulant in the follies of a precocious flirta- 
tion. What a charming picture we have of 
Eugenie de Guerin feeding her passionate lit- 
tle soul with vain regrets for the unfortunate 
family of Louis XVI. and with sweet infan- 
tile plans for their rescue. " Even as a 
child," she writes in her journal, " I venerated 
this martyr, I loved this victim whom I heard 
so much talked of in my family as the 21st 
of January drew near. We used to be taken 
to the funeral service in the church, and I 
gazed at the high catafalque, the melancholy 
throne of the good king. My astonishment 



TEE DECAY OF SENTIMENT, 101 

impressed me with sorrow and indignation. I 
came away weeping over this death, and hat- 
ing the wicked men who had brought it about. 
How many hours have I spent devising means 
for saving Louis, the queen, and the whole 
hapless family, — if I only had lived in their 
day. But after much calculating and con- 
triving, no promising measure presented itself, 
and I was forced, very reluctantly, to leave 
the prisoners where they were. My compas- 
sion was more especially excited for the beau- 
tiful little Dauphin, the poor child pent up 
between walls, and unable to play in freedom. 
I used to carry him off in fancy, and keep 
him safely hidden at Cayla, and Heaven 
only knows the delight of running about our 
fields with a prince." 

Here at least we see the imaginative faculty 
playing a vigorous and wholesome part in a 
child's mental training. The little solitary 
French girl who filled up her lonely hours 
with such pretty musings as these, could 
scarcely fail to attain that rare distinction of 
mind which all true critics have been so 
prompt to recognize and love. It was with 
her the natural outgrowth of an intelligence, 



102 BOOKS AND MEN. 

quickened by sympathy and fed with delicate 
emotions. The Dauphin in the Temple, the 
Princes in the Tower, Marie Antoinette on the 
guillotine, and Jeanne d'Arc at the stake, 
these are the scenes which have burned their 
way into many a youthful heart, and the force 
of such early impressions can never be utterly 
destroyed. A recent essayist, deeply imbued 
with this good principle, has assured us that 
the little maiden who, ninety years ago, sur- 
prised her mother in tears, " because the 
wicked people had cut off the French queen's 
head," received from that impression the very 
highest kind of education. But this is ob- 
ject-teaching carried to its extremest limit, 
and even in these days, when training is rec- 
ognized to be of such vital importance, one 
feels that the death of a queen is a high price 
to pay for a little girl's instruction. It might 
perhaps suffice to let her live more freely in 
the past, and cultivate her emotions after a 
less costly and realistic fashion. 

On the other hand, Mr. Edgar Saltus, who 
is nothing if not melancholy, would fain per- 
suade us that the " gift of tears," which Swin- 
burne prized so highly and Mrs. Browning 



TEE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 103 

cultivated with such transparent care, finds 
its supreme expression in man, only because of 
man's greater capacity for suffering. Yet if 
it be true that the burden of life grows heav- 
ier for each succeeding generation, it is no less 
apparent that we have taught ourselves to 
stare dry-eyed at its blankness. An old rab- 
binical legend says that in Paradise God gave 
the earth to Adam and tears to Eve, and it is 
a cheerless doctrine which tells us now that 
both gifts are equal because both are value- 
less, that the world will never be any merrier, 
and that we are all tired of waxing sentimen- 
tal over its lights and shadows. But our 
great-grandfathers, who were assuredly not a 
tender-hearted race, and who never troubled 
their heads about those modern institutions, 
wickedly styled by Mr. Lang " Societies for 
Badgering the Poor," cried right heartily 
over poems, and novels, and pictures, and 
plays, and scenery, and everything, in short, 
that their great-grandsons would not now con- 
sider as worthy of emotion. Jeffrey the ter- 
rible shed tears over the long-drawn pathos 
of little Nell, and has been roundly abused 
by critics ever since for the extremely bad 



104 BOOKS AND MEN. 

taste he exhibited. Macaulay, who was sel- 
dom disposed to be sentimental, confesses 
that he wept over Florence Dombey. Lord 
Byron was strongly moved when Scott recited 
to him his favorite ballad of Hardyknute; 
and Sir Walter himself paid the tribute of 
his tears to Mrs. Opie's dismal stories, and 
Southey's no less dismal Pilgrimage to Water- 
loo. When Marmion was first published, 
Joanna Baillie undertook to read it aloud to a 
little circle of literary friends, and on reach- 
ing those lines which have reference to her 
own poems, 

" When she the bold enchantress came, 
With fearless hand, and heart in flame," 

the " uncontrollable emotion " of her hearers 
forced the fair reader to break down. In 
a modern drawing-room this uncontrollable 
emotion would probably find expression in 
such gentle murmurs of congratulation as 
" Very pretty and appropriate, I am sure," or 
" How awfully nice in Sir Walter to have put 
it in that way ! " 

Turn where we will, however, amid the 
pages of the past, we see this precious gift of 
tears poured out in what seems to us now a 



THE DEC A Y OF SENTIMENT. 105 

spirit of wanton profusion. Sterne, by his own 
showing, must have gone through life like 
the Walrus, in Through the Looking Glass, 

" Holding his pocket handkerchief 
Before his streaming eyes ; ' ' 

and we can detect him every now and then 
peeping slyly out of the folds, to see what sort 
of an impression he was making. " I am as 
weak as a woman," he sighs, with conscious 
satisfaction, " and I beg the world not to 
smile, but pity me." Burns, who at least never 
cried for effect, was moved to sudden tears by 
a pathetic print of a dead soldier, that hung 
on Professor Fergusson's wall. Scott was al- 
ways visibly affected by the wild northern 
scenery that he loved ; and Erskine was dis- 
covered in the Cave of Staff a, " weeping like a 
woman," though, in truth, a gloomy, danger- 
ous, slippery, watery cavern is the last place 
on earth where a woman would ordinarily stop 
to be emotional. She might perhaps cry with 
Sterne over a dead monk or a dead donkey, 
— he has an equal allowance of tears for 
both, — but once inside of a cave, her real 
desire is to get out again as quickly as possi- 
ble, with dry skirts and an unbroken neck. 



106 BOOKS AND MEN. 

It may be, however, that our degenerate mod- 
ern impulses afford us no safe clue to those 
halcyon days when sentiment was paramount 
and practical considerations of little weight ; 
when wet feet and sore throats were not suf- 
fered to intrude their rueful warnings upon 
the majesty of nature ; when ladies, who 
lived comfortably and happily with the hus- 
bands of their choice, poured forth impas- 
sioned prayers, in the Annual Register, for 
the boon of indifference, and poets like Cow- 
per rushed forward to remonstrate with them 
for their cruelty. 

" Let no low thought suggest the prayer, 
Oh ! grant, kind Heaven, to me, 
Long as I draw ethereal air, 
Sweet sensibility.' ' 

wrote the author of The Task, in sober earnest- 
ness and sincerity. 

" Then oh ! ye Fair, if Pity's ray 
E'er taught your snowy breasts to sigh, 
Shed o' er my contemplative lay 
The tears of sensibility," 

wrote Macaulay as a burlesque on the prevail- 
ing spirit of bathos, and was, I think, un- 
reasonably angry because a number of readers, 
his own mother included, failed to see that he 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 107 

was in fun. Yet all his life this mocking 
critic cherished in his secret soul of souls a 
real affection for those hysterical old romances 
which had been the delight of his boyhood, 
and which were even then rapidly disappear- 
ing before the cold scorn of an enlightened 
world. Miss Austen, in Sense and Sensibility, 
had impaled emotionalism on the fine shafts of 
her delicate satire, and Macaulay was Miss 
Austen's sworn champion ; but nevertheless he 
contrived to read and reread Mrs. Meek's and 
Mrs. Cuthbertson's marvelous stories, until he 
probably knew them better than he did Emma 
or Northanger Abbey. When an old edition 
of Santa Sebastiano was sold at auction in 
India, he secured it at a fabulous price, — Miss 
Eden bidding vigorously against him, — and 
he occupied his leisure moments in making a 
careful calculation of the number of fainting- 
fits that occur in the course of the five vol- 
umes. There are twenty-seven in all, so he 
has recorded, of which the heroine alone comes 
in for eleven, while seven others are distributed 
among the male characters. Mr. Trevelyan 
has kindly preserved for us the description of 
a single catastrophe, and we can no longer 



108 BOOKS AND MEN 

wonder at anybody's partiality for the tale, 
when we learn that " one of the sweetest 
smiles that ever animated the face of mortal 
man now diffused itself over the countenance 
of Lord St. Orville, as he fell at the feet of 
Julia in a death-like swoon." Mr. Howells 
would doubtless tell us that this is not a 
true and accurate delineation of real life, and 
that what Lord St. Orville should have done 
was to have simply wiped the perspiration 
off his forehead, after the unvarnished fash- 
ion of Mr. Mavering, in April Hopes. But 
Macaulay, who could mop his own brow when- 
ever he felt so disposed, and who recognized 
his utter inability to faint with a sweet smile 
at a lady's feet, naturally delighted in Mrs. 
Cuthbertson's singularly accomplished hero. 
Swooning is now, I fear, sadly out of date. 
In society we no longer look upon it as a 
pleasing evidence of feminine propriety, and 
in the modern novel nothing sufficiently excit- 
ing to bring about such a result is ever per- 
mitted to happen. But in the good old impos- 
sible stories of the past it formed a very im- 
portant element, and some of Mrs. Radcliffe's 
heroines can easily achieve twenty-seven faint- 



TEE DEC A Y OF SENTIMENT. 109 

ing-fits by their own unaided industry. They 
faint at the most inopportune times and 
under the most exasperating circumstances: 
when they are running away from banditti, or 
hiding from cruel relatives, or shut up by 
themselves in gloomy dungeons, with nobody 
to look after and resuscitate them. Their 
trembling limbs are always refusing to support 
them just when a little activity is really neces- 
sary for safety, and, though they live in an 
atmosphere of horrors, the smallest shock is 
more than they can endure with equanimity. 
In the Sicilian Romance, Julia's brother, de- 
siring to speak to her for a minute, knocks 
gently at her door, whereupon, with the most 
unexpected promptness, "she shrieked and 
fainted ; " and as the key happens to be turned 
on the inside, he is obliged to wait in the hall 
until she slowly regains her consciousness. 

Nothing, however, can mar the decorous sen- 
timentality which these young people exhibit 
in all their loves and sorrows. Emily the for- 
lorn " touched the chords of her lute in solemn 
symphony," when the unenviable nature of her 
surroundings might reasonably have banished 
all music from her soul ; Theodore paused to 



110 BOOKS AND MEN. 

bathe Adeline's hand with his tears, in a mo- 
ment of painful uncertainty ; and Hippolitus, 
who would have scorned to be stabbed like an 
ordinary mortal, " received a sword through 
his body," — precisely as though it were a 
present, — " and, uttering a deep sigh, fell to 
the ground," on which, true to her principles, 
"Julia shrieked and fainted." We read of 
the Empress Octavia swooning when Virgil 
recited to her his description of the death of 
Marcellus ; and we know that Shelley fainted 
when he heard Cristabel read ; but Mrs. Rad- 
cliffe's heroines, though equally sensitive, are 
kept too busy with their own disasters to show 
this sympathetic interest in literature. Their 
adventures strike us now as being, on the whole, 
more amusing than thrilling ; but we should 
remember that they were no laughing matter 
to the readers of fifty years ago. People did 
not then object to the interminable length of 
a story, and they followed its intricate wind- 
ings and counter-windings with a trembling 
zest which we can only envy. One of the ear- 
liest recollections of my own childhood is a 
little book depicting the awful results of Mrs. 
Radcliffe's terror-inspiring romances upon the 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. Ill 

youthful mind ; a well-intentioned work, no 
doubt, but which inevitably filled us with a 
sincere desire to taste for ourselves of these 
pernicious horrors. If I found them far less 
frightful than I had hoped, the loss was mine, 
and the fault lay in the matter-of-fact atmos- 
phere of the modern nursery ; for does not the 
author of the now forgotten Pursuits of Lit- 
erature tell us that the Mysteries of Udolpho 
is the work of an intellectual giant ? — "a 
mighty magician, bred and nourished by the 
Florentine muses in their sacred solitary 
caverns, amid the pale shrines of Gothic su- 
perstition, and in all the dreariness of enchant- 
ment." 

That was the way that critics used to write, 
and nobody dreamed of laughing at them. 
When Letitia Elizabeth Landon poured forth 
her soul in the most melancholy of verses, all 
London stopped to listen and to pity. 

" There is no truth in love, whate'er its seeming, 
And Heaven itself could scarcely seem more true. 
Sadly have I awakened. from the dreaming 
Whose charmed slumher, false one, was of you," 

wrote this healthy and heart-whole young wo- 
man ; and Lord Lytton has left us an amusing 



112 BOOKS AND MEN. 

account of the sensation that such poems ex- 
cited. He and his fellow-students exhausted 
their ingenuity in romantic speculations con- 
cerning the unknown singer, and inscribed 
whole reams of fervid but indifferent stanzas 
to her honor. " There was always," he says, 
" in the reading-room of the Union, a rush 
every Saturday afternoon for the Literary 
Gazette, and an impatient anxiety to hasten at 
once to that corner of the sheet which con- 
tained the three magical letters L. E. L. All 
of us praised the verse, and all of us guessed 
the author. We soon learned that it was a 
female, and our admiration was doubled, and 
our conjectures tripled." When Francesca 
Carrara appeared, it was received with an 
enthusiasm never manifested for Pride and 
Prejudice, or Persuasion, and romantic young 
men and women reveled in its impassioned 
melancholy. What a pattering of tear-drops 
on every page ! The lovely heroine — less 
mindful of her clothes than Mrs. Pullet — 
looks down and marks how the great drops 
have fallen like rain upon her bosom. " Alas ! " 
she sighs, " I have cause to weep. I must 
weep over my own changefulness, and over the 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 113 

sweetest illusions of my youth. I feel sud- 
denly grown old. Never more will the flowers 
seem so lovely, or the stars so bright. Never 
more shall I dwell on Erminia's deep and en- 
during love for the unhappy Tancred, and 
think that I too could so have loved. Ah ! in 
what now can I believe, when I may not even 
trust my own heart ? " Here, at least, we have 
unadulterated sentiment, with no traces in it 
of that " mean and jocular life " which Emer- 
son so deeply scorned, and for which the light- 
minded readers of to-day have ventured to ex- 
press their cheerful and shameless preference. 
Emotional literature, reflecting as it does the 
tastes and habits of a dead past, should not 
stand trial alone before the cold eyes of the 
mocking present, where there is no sympathy 
for its weakness and no clue to its identity. 
A happy cominonplaceness is now acknowl- 
edged to be, next to brevity of life, man's best 
inheritance ; but in the days when all the vir- 
tues and vices flaunted in gala costume, people 
were hardly prepared for that fine simplicity 
which has grown to be the crucial test of art. 
Love, friendship, honor, and courage w r ere as 
real then as now, but they asserted themselves 



114 BOOKS AND MEN. 

in fantastic ways, and with an ostentation that 
we are apt to mistake for insincerity. When 
Mrs. Katharine Philips founded her famous 
Society of Friendship, in the middle of the 
seventeenth century, she was working ear- 
nestly enough for her particular conception of 
sweetness and light. It is hard not to laugh 
at these men and women of the world address- 
ing each other solemnly as the " noble Silvan- 
der " and the " dazzling Polycrete ; " and it is 
harder still to believe that the fervent devo- 
tion of their verses represented in any degree 
the real sentiments of their hearts. But 
Orinda, whose indefatigable exertions held the 
society together, meant every word she said, 
and credited the rest with similar veracity. 

c ' Lucasia, whose harmonious state 
The Spheres and Muses only imitate," 

is for her but a temperate expression of re- 
gard ; and we find her writing to Mrs. Annie 
Owens — a most unresponsive young Welsh- 
woman — in language that would be deemed 
extravagant in a lover : — 

" I did not live until this time 
Crowned my felicity, 
When I could say without a crime, 
I am not thine, but thee." 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 115 

One wonders what portion of her heart the 
amiable Mr. Philips was content to occupy. 

Frenchwomen of the seventeenth and eight- 
eenth centuries found their principal amuse- 
ment in contracting, either with each other or 
with men, those highly sentimental friend- 
ships which were presumably free from all 
dross of earthly passion, and which rested on 
a shadowy basis of pure intellectual affinity. 
Mademoiselle de Scudery delighted in por- 
traying this rarefied intercourse between con- 
genial souls, and the billing and cooing of 
Platonic turtle-doves fill many pages of her 
ponderous romances. Sappho and Phaon, in 
the Grand Cyrus, " told each other every par- 
ticular of their lives," which must have been 
a little tedious at times and altogether unnec- 
essary, inasmuch as we are assured that " the 
exchange of their thoughts was so sincere that 
all those in Sappho's mind passed into Pha- 
on's, and all those in Phaon's came into Sap- 
pho's." Conversation under these circum- 
stances would be apt to lose its zest for ordi- 
nary mortals, who value the power of speech 
rather as a disguise than as an interpretation 
of their real convictions ; but it was not so 



116 BOOKS AND MEN. 

with this guileless pair. " They understood 
each other without words, and saw their whole 
hearts in each other's eyes." 

As for the great wave of emotionalism that 
followed in Rousseau's train, it was a pure 
make-believe, like every other sentiment that 
bubbled on the seething surface of French so- 
ciety. Avarice and honor alone were real. 
To live like a profligate and to die like a hero 
were the two accomplishments common to 
every grand seigneur in the country. For the 
rest, there was a series of fads, — simplicity, 
benevolence, philosophy, passion, asceticism; 
Voltaire one day, Rousseau the next ; Arca- 
dian virtues and court vices jumbled fantas- 
tically together ; the cause of the people on 
every tongue, and the partridges hatching in 
the peasant's corn; Marie Antoinette milking 
a cow, and the infant Madame Royale with 
eighty nurses and attendants ; great ladies, 
with jewels in their hair, on their bosoms, and 
on their silken slippers, laboriously earning a 
few francs by picking out gold threads from 
scraps of tarnished bullion ; everybody anx- 
iously asking everybody else, " What shall we 
do to be amused? " and the real answer to all 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 117 

uttered long before by Louis XIII., " Venez, 
monsieur, allons - nous ennuyer ensemble." 
Day and night are not more different than 
this sickly hothouse pressure and the pure 
emotion that fired Scott's northern blood, as 
he looked on the dark rain-swept hills till his 
eyes grew bright with tears. " We sometimes 
weep to avoid the disgrace of not weeping," 
says Rochefoucauld, who valued at its worth 
the facile sentimentality of his countrymen. 
Could he have lived to witness M. de Latour's 
hysterical transports on finding Rousseau's 
signature and a crushed periwinkle in an old 
copy of the Imitatio, the great moralist might 
see that his bitter truths have in them a piti- 
less continuity of adjustment, and fit them- 
selves afresh to every age. What excitation 
of feeling accompanied the bloody work of 
the French Revolutionists ! What purity of 
purpose ! What nobility of language ! What 
grandeur of device ! What bottled moonshine 
everywhere ! The wicked old world was to 
be born anew, reason was to triumph over 
passion ; and self-interest, which had ruled 
men for six thousand years, was to be sud- 
denly eradicated from their hearts. When 



118 BOOKS AND MEN. 

the patriots had finished cutting off every- 
body else's head, then the reign of mutual ten- 
derness would begin; the week — inestimable 
privilege ! — would hold ten days instead of 
seven ; and Frimaire and Floreal and Messi- 
dor would prove to the listening earth that 
the very names of past months had sunk into 
merited oblivion. Father Faber says that a 
sense of humor is a great help in the spiritual 
life ; it is an absolute necessity in the tempo- 
ral. Had the Convention possessed even the 
faintest perception of the ridiculous, this 
friendly instinct would have lowered their sub- 
lime heads from the stars, stung them into 
practical issues, and moderated the absurd de- 
lusions of the hour. 

At present, however, the new disciples of 
" earnestness " are trying hard to persuade us 
that we are too humorous, and that it is the 
spirit of universal mockery which stifles all 
our nobler and finer emotions. We would 
like to believe them, but unhappily it is only 
to exceedingly strenuous souls that this lawless 
fun seems to manifest itself. The rest of us, 
searching cheerfully enough, fail to discover 
its traces. If we are seldom capable of any 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 119 

sustained enthusiasm, it is rather because we 
yawn than because we laugh. Unlike Emer- 
son, we are glad to be amused, only the task 
of amusing us grows harder day by day ; and 
Justin McCarthy's languid heroine, who de- 
clines to get up in the morning because she 
has so often been up before, is but an exhaus- 
tive instance of the inconveniences of modern 
satiety. When we read of the Oxford stu- 
dents beleaguering the bookshops in excited 
crowds for the first copies of Rokeby and 
Childe Harold, fighting over the precious vol- 
umes, and betting recklessly on their rival 
sales, we wonder whether either Lord Tenny- 
son's or Mr. Browning's latest effusions cre- 
ated any such tumult among the undergradu- 
ates of to-day, or wiled away their money from 
more legitimate subjects of speculation. Lord 
Holland, when asked by Murray for his opin- 
ion of Old Mortality, answered indignantly, 
"Opinion! We did not one of us go to 
bed last night ! Nothing slept but my gout." 
Yet Eokeby and Childe Harold are both in 
sad disgrace with modern critics, and Old 
Mortality stands gathering dust upon our 
bookshelves. Mr. Howells, who ought to 



120 BOOKS AND MEN. 

know, tells us that fiction has become a finer 
art in our day than it was in the days of our 
fathers, and that the methods and interests we 
have outgrown can never hope to be revived. 
So if the masterpieces of the present, the tri- 
umphs of learned verse and realistic prose, fail 
to lift their readers out of themselves, like the 
masterpieces of the past, the fault must be our 
own. We devote some conscientious hours 
to Parleyings with Certain People of Impor- 
tance, and we are well pleased, on the whole, 
to find ourselves in such good company ; but 
it is a pleasure rich in the temperance that 
Hamlet loved, and altogether unlikely to ruffle 
our composure. We read The Bostonians 
and The Rise of Silas Lapham with a due 
appreciation of their minute perfections ; but 
we go to bed quite cheerfully at our usual 
hour, and are content to wait an interval of 
leisure to resume them. Could Daisy Miller 
charm a gouty leg, or Lemuel Barker keep us 
sleepless until morning? When St. Pierre 
finished the manuscript of Paul and Virginia, 
he consented to read it to the painter, Joseph 
Vernet. At first the solitary listener was 
loud in his approbation, then more subdued, 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 121 

then silent altogether. " Soon he ceased to 
praise ; he only wept." Yet Paul and Vir- 
ginia has been pronounced morbid, strained, 
unreal, unworthy even of the tears that child- 
hood drops upon its pages. But would Mr. 
Millais or Sir Frederick Leighton sit weeping 
over the delightful manuscripts of Henry 
Shorthouse or Mr. Louis Stevenson? Did 
the last flicker of genuine emotional enthusi- 
asm die out with George Borrow, who lived 
at least a century too late for his own con- 
venience ? When a respectable, gray-haired, 
middle-aged Englishman takes an innocent 
delight in standing bare-headed in the rain, 
reciting execrable Welsh verses on every spot 
where a Welsh bard might, but probably does 
not, lie buried, it is small wonder that the 
"coarse-hearted, sensual, selfish Saxon " — we 
quote the writer's own words — should find 
the spectacle more amusing than sublime. 
But then what supreme satisfaction Mr. Bor- 
row derived from his own rhapsodies, what 
conscious superiority over the careless crowd 
who found life all too short to study the beau- 
ties of Iolo Goch or Gwilym ab Ieuan ! 
There is nothing in the world so enjoyable as 



122 BOOKS AND MEN 

a thorough-going monomania, especially if it 
be of that peculiar literary order which insures 
a broad field and few competitors. In a pas- 
sionate devotion to Welsh epics or to Proven- 
cal pastorals, to Roman antiquities or to 
Gypsy genealogy, to the most confused epochs 
of Egyptian history or the most private cor- 
respondence of a dead author, — in one or 
other of these favorite specialties our mod- 
ern students choose to put forth their powers, 
and display an astonishing industry and zeal. 
There is a story told of a far too cultivated 
young man, who, after professing a great love 
for music, was asked if he enjoyed the opera. 
He did not. Oratorios were then more to his 
taste. He did not care for them at all. Bal- 
lads perhaps pleased him by their simplicity. 
He took no interest in them whatever. 
Church music alone was left. He had no par- 
tiality for even that. " What is it you do 
like ? " asked his questioner, with despairing 
persistency; and the answer was vouchsafed 
her in a single syllable, " Fugues." This ex- 
clusiveness of spirit may be detrimental to 
that broad catholicity on which great minds 
are nourished, but it has rare charms for its 



THE DECAY OF SENTIMENT. 123 

possessor, and, being within the reach of all, 
grows daily in our favor. French poets, like 
Gautier and Sully Prudhomme, have been con- 
tent to strike all their lives upon a single res- 
onant note, and men of far inferior genius 
have produced less perfect work in the same 
willfully restricted vein. The pressure of the 
outside world sorely chafes these unresponsive 
natures ; large issues paralyze their pens. 
They turn by instinct from the coarseness, the 
ugliness, the realness of life, and sing of it 
with graceful sadness and with delicate laugh- 
ter, as if the whole thing were a pathetic or a 
fantastic dream. They are dumb before its 
riddles and silent in its uproar, standing apart 
from the tumult, and letting the impetuous 
crowd — " mostly fools," as Carlyle said — 
sweep by them unperceived. Herrick is their 
prototype, the poet who polished off his little 
glittering verses about Julia's silks and Dia- 
neme's ear-rings when all England was dark 
with civil war. But even this armed neutral- 
ity, this genuine and admirable indifference, 
cannot always save us from the rough knocks 
of a burly and aggressive world. The revolu- 
tion, which he ignored, drove Herrick from 



124 BOOKS AND MEN. 

his peaceful vicarage into the poverty and 
gloom of London ; the siege of Paris played 
sad havoc with Gautier's artistic tranquillity, 
and devoured the greater part of his modest 
fortune. We are tethered to our kind, and 
may as well join hands in the struggle. Vex- 
ation is no heavier than ennui, and " he who 
lives without folly," says Rochefoucauld, u is 
hardly so wise as he thinks." 



CUEIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 

There is a growing tendency on the part of 
literary men to resent what they are pleased 
to consider the unwarrantable interference of 
the critic. His ministrations have probably 
never been sincerely gratifying to their recipi- 
ents ; Marsyas could hardly have enjoyed be- 
ing flayed by Apollo, even though he knew his 
music was bad ; and worse, far worse, than 
the most caustic severity are the few careless 
w r ords that dismiss our cherished aspirations 
as not even worthy the rueful dignity of pun- 
ishment. But in former days the victim, if he 
resented such treatment at all, resented it in 
the spirit of Lord Byron, who, roused to a 
healthy and vigorous wrath, 

' * expressed his royal views 
In language such as gentlemen are seldom known to use," 

and by a comprehensive and impartial attack 
on all the writers of his time proved himself 
both able and willing to handle the weapons 



126 BOOKS AND MEN. 

that had wounded him. On the other side, 
those authors whose defensive powers were of 
a less prompt and efficient character ventured 
no nearer to a quarrel than — to borrow a 
simile of George Eliot's — a water-fowl that 
puts out its leg in a deprecating manner can 
be said to quarrel with a boy who throws 
stones. Southey, who of all men entertained 
the most comfortable opinion of his own mer- 
its, must have been deeply angered by the 
treatment Thalaba and Madoc received from 
the Edinburgh Review ; yet we cannot see that 
either he or his admirers looked upon Jeffrey 
in any other light than that of a tyrannical 
but perfectly legitimate authority. Ear nobler 
victims suffered from the same bitter sting, 
and they too nursed their wounds in a deco- 
rous silence. 

But it is very different to-day, when every 
injured aspirant to the Temple of Fame as- 
sures himself and a sympathizing public, not 
that a particular critic is mistaken in his par- 
ticular case, which we may safely take for 
granted, but that all critics are necessarily 
wrong in all cases, through an abnormal de- 
velopment of what the catechism terms " dark- 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 127 

ness of the understanding and a propensity to 
evil." This amiable theory was, I think, first 
advanced by Lord Beaconsfield, who sorely 
needed some such emollient for his bruises. 
In Lothair, when that truly remarkable ar- 
tist Mr. Gaston Phoebus, accompanied by his 
sister-in-law Miss Euphrosyne Cantacuzene, 
— Heaven help their unhappy sponsors ! — 
reveals to his assembled guests the picture he 
has just completed, we are told that his air 
" was elate, and was redeemed from arrogance 
only by the intellect of his brow. ' To-mor- 
row,' he said, ' the critics will commence. 
You know who the critics are ? The men who 
have failed in literature and art.' ' If Lord 
Beaconsfield thought to disarm his foes by this 
ingenious device, he was most signally mis- 
taken ; for while several of the reviews were 
deferentially hinting that perhaps the book 
might not be so very bad as it seemed, Black- 
wood stepped alertly to the front, and in a 
criticism unsurpassed for caustic wit and mer- 
ciless raillery held up each feeble extravagance 
to the inextinguishable laughter of the world. 
Even now, when few people venture upon the 
palatial dreariness of the novel itself, there is 



128 BOOKS AND MEN. 

no better way of insuring a mirthful hour than 
by re - reading this vigorous and trenchant 
satire. 

Quite recently two writers, one on either 
side of the Atlantic, have echoed with super- 
fluous bitterness their conviction of the total 
depravity of the critic. Mr. Edgar Fawcett, 
in The House on High Bridge, and Mr. J. R. 
Rees, in The Pleasures of a Book- Worm, 
seem to find the English language painfully 
inadequate for the forcible expression of their 
displeasure. Mr. Fawcett considers all critics 
"inconsistent when they are not regrettably 
ignorant," and fails to see any use for them in 
an enlightened world. " It is marvelous," he 
reflects, " how long we tolerate an absurdity 
of injustice before suddenly waking up to it. 
And what can be a more clear absurdity than 
that some one individual caprice, animus, or 
even honest judgment should be made to in- 
fluence the public regarding any new book? " 
Moreover, he has discovered that the men and 
women who write the reviews are mere " un- 
derpaid vendors of opinions," who earn their 
breakfasts and dinners by saying disagreeable 
things about authors, " their superiors beyond 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 129 

expression." But it is only fair to remind 
Mr. Fawcett that no particular disgrace is in- 
volved in earning one's breakfasts and din- 
ners. On the contrary, hunger is a perfectly 
legitimate and very valuable incentive to in- 
dustry. " God help the bear, if, having little 
else to eat, he must not even suck his own 
paws ! " wrote Sir Walter Scott, with good- 
humored contempt, when Lord Byron accused 
him of being a mercenary poet ; and we prob- 
ably owe the Vicar of Wakefield, The Li- 
brary, and Venice Preserved to their authors' 
natural and unavoidable craving for food. 
Besides, if the reviewers are underpaid, it is 
not so much their fault as that of their em- 
ployers, and their breakfasts and dinners must 
be proportionately light. When Milton re- 
ceived five pounds for Paradise Lost, he was 
probably the most underpaid writer in the 
whole history of literature, yet Mr. Mark Pat- 
tison seems to think that this fact redounds to 
his especial honor. 

But there are even worse things to be 
learned about the critic than that he sells his 
opinions for food. According to Mr. Fawcett 
he is distinguished for " real, hysterical, vigi- 



130 BOOKS AND MEN. 

lant, unhealthy sensitiveness," and nurses this 
unpleasant feeling to such a degree that, 
should an author object to being ill-treated at 
his hands, the critic is immediately offended 
into saying something more abominable still. 
In fact, like an uncompromising mother I once 
knew, who always punished her children till 
they looked pleasant, he requires his smarting 
victims to smile beneath the rod. Happily 
there is a cure, and a very radical one, too, 
for this painful state of affairs. Mr. Fawcett 
proposes that all such offenders should be 
obliged to buy the work which they dissect, 
rightly judging that the book notices would 
grow beautifully less under such stringent 
treatment/ Indeed, were it extended a little 
further, and all readers obliged to buy the 
books they read, the publishers, the sellers, 
and the reviewers might spare the time to 
take a holiday together. 

Mr. Rees is quite as severe and much more 
ungrateful in his strictures ; for, after stating 
that the misbehavior of the critic is a source 
of great amusement to the thoughtful stu- 
dent, he proceeds to chastise that misbehavior, 
as though it had never entertained him at all. 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 131 

In bis opinion, the reviewer, being guided ex- 
clusively by a set of obsolete and worthless 
rules, is necessarily incapable of recognizing 
genius under any new development : " He 
usually is as little fitted to deal with the tasks 
he sets himself as a manikin is to growl about 
the anatomy of a star, setting forth at the 
same time his own thoughts as to how it 
should be formed." Vanity is the mainspring 
of his actions : " He fears to be thought be- 
neath his author, and so doles out a limited 
number of praises and an unlimited quantity 
of slur." Like the Welshman, he strikes in 
the dark, thus escaping just retribution ; and 
in his stupid ignorance he seeks to " rein in 
the winged steed," from having no conception 
of its aerial powers. 

Now this is a formidable indictment, and 
some of the charges may be not without foun- 
dation ; but if, as too often happens, the 
" winged steed " is merely a donkey standing 
ambitiously on its hind legs, who but the 
critic can compel it to resume its quadru- 
pedal attitude? If, as Mr. Walter Bagehot 
warned us some years ago, " reading is about 
to become a series of collisions against aggra- 



132 BOOKS AND MEN. 

vated breakers, of beatings with imaginary- 
surf," who but the critic can steer us safely- 
through the storm ? Never, in fact, were his 
duties more sharply defined or more sorely- 
needed than at present, when the average 
reader, like the unfortunate Mr. Boffin, stands 
bewildered by the Scarers in Print, and finds 
life all too short for their elucidation. The 
self-satisfied who "know what they prefer," 
and read accordingly, are like the enthusiasts 
who follow their own consciences without first 
accurately ascertaining whither they are being 
taken. It has been well said that the object of 
criticism is simply to clear the air about great 
work for the benefit of ordinary people. We 
only waste our powers when we refuse a guide, 
and by forcing our minds hither and thither, 
like navigators exploring each new stream 
while ignorant of its course and current, we 
squander in idle researches the time and 
thought which should send us steadily for- 
ward on our road. Worse still, we vitiate 
our judgments by perverse and presumptuous 
conclusions, and weaken our untrained facul- 
ties by the very methods we hoped would 
speed their growth. If Mr. Ruskin and Mr. 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 133 

Matthew Arnold resemble each other in noth- 
ing else, they have both taught earnestly and 
persistently, through long and useful lives, the 
supreme necessity of law, the supreme merit 
of obedience. Mr. Arnold preached it with 
logical coldness, after his fashion, and Mr. 
Ruskin with illogical impetuosity, after his ; 
but the lesson remains practically the same. 
" All freedom is error," writes the author of 
Queen of the Air, who is at least blessed with 
the courage of his convictions. " Every line 
you lay down is either right or wrong : it may 
be timidly and awkwardly wrong, or fearlessly 
and impudently wrong ; the aspect of the im- 
pudent wrongness is pleasurable to vulgar per- 
sons, and is what they commonly call ' free ' 
execution. . . • I have hardly patience to 
hold my pen and go on writing, as I remem- 
ber the infinite follies of modern thought in 
this matter, centred in the notion that liberty 
is good for a man, irrespectively of the use he 
is likely to make of it." 

But he does go on writing, nevertheless, 
long after this slender stock of patience is ex- 
hausted, and in his capacity of critic he lays 
down Draconian laws which his disciples seem 



134 BOOKS AND MEN. 

bound to wear as a heavy yoke around their 
necks. " Who made Mr. Ruskin a judge or 
a nursery governess over us ? " asks an irrev- 
erent contributor to Macmillan ; and why, 
after all, should we abstain from reading Dar- 
win, and Grote, and Coleridge, and Kingsley, 
and Thackeray, and a host of other writers, 
who may or may not be gratifying to our own 
tastes, because Mr. Ruskin has tried and 
found them wanting ? It is not the province 
of a critic to bar us in a wholesale manner 
from all authors he does not chance to like, 
but to aid us, by his practiced judgment, to 
extract what is good from every field, and to 
trace, as far as in us lies, those varying de- 
grees of excellence which it is to our advan- 
tage to discern. It was in this way that Mr, 
Arnold, working with conscientious and dis- 
passionate serenity, opened our eyes to new 
beauty, and strengthened us against vicious 
influences ; he added to our sources of pleas- 
ure, he helped us to enjoy them, and not to 
recognize his kindly aid would be an ungra- 
cious form of self-deception. If he were oc- 
casionally a little puzzling, as in some parts 
of Celtic Literature, where the qualities he 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 135 

detected fall meaningless on our ears, it is a 
wholesome lesson in humility to acknowledge 
our bewilderment. Why should the lines 

" What little town by river or sea-shore, 
Or mountain-built with quiet citadel, 
Is emptied of its folk this pious morn ? ' ' 

be the expression of a purely Greek form of 
thought, " as Greek as a thing from Homer or 
Theocritus ; " and 

" In such anight 
Stood Dido, with a willow in her hand, 
Upon the wild sea-banks, and waved her love 
To come again to Carthage, ' ' 

be as purely Celtic ? Why should 

" I know a bank where the wild thyme blows " 

be Greek, and 

" Fast-fading violets cover' d up in leaves " 

be Celtic? That harmless nondescript, the 
general reader, be he ever so anxious for en- 
lightenment, is forced to confess he really does 
not know ; and if his ignorance be of the com- 
placent order, he adds an impatient doubt as 
to whether Mr. Arnold knew either, just as 
when he " comes up gasping " from a sudden 
plunge into Browning, he is prompt to declare 
his firm conviction that the poet never had the 
faintest idea what he was writing about. 



136 BOOKS AND MEN. 

But there is another style of enigma with 
which critics are wont to harry and perplex us, 
and one has need of a " complication-proof 
mind/' like Sir George Cornewall Lewis, to 
see clearly through the tangle. Mr. Churton 
Collins, in his bitter attack on Mr. Gosse in 
the Quarterly Review, objected vehemently to 
ever-varying descriptions of a single theme. 
He did not think that if Drayton's Barons' 
Wars be a " serene and lovely poem," it could 
well have a " passionate music running through 
it," or possess " irregular force and. sudden 
brilliance of style." Perhaps he was right ; 
but there are few critics who can help us to 
know and feel a poem like Mr. Gosse, and 
fewer still who write with such consummate 
grace and charm. It is only when we pass 
from one reviewer to another that the shifting 
lights thrown upon an author dazzle and con- 
fuse us. Like the fifty-six different readings 
of the first line of the Orlando Furioso, there 
are countless standpoints from which we are 
invited to inspect each and every subject ; and 
unless we follow the admirable example of Mr. 
Courthope, who solves a difficulty by gently 
saying, " The matter is one not for argument, 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 137 

but for perception," we are lost in the mazes 
of indecision. Thus Mr. Ruskin demonstrates 
most beautifully the great superiority of Sir 
Walter Scott's heroines over his heroes, and 
by the time we settle our minds to this convic- 
tion we find that Mr. Bagehot, that most acute 
and exhausting of critics, thinks the heroines 
inferior in every way, and that Sir Walter 
was truly felicitous only in his male characters. 
Happily, this is a point on which we should 
be able to decide for ourselves without much 
prompting; but all disputed topics are not 
equally intelligible. There is the vexed and 
vexing question of romantic and classical, 
conservative and liberal poetry, about which 
Mr. Courthope and Mr. Andrew Lang and 
Mr. Myers have had so much to say of late, 
and which is, at best, but a dimly lighted path 
for the uninitiated to travel. There is that 
perpetual problem, Mr. Walt Whitman, the 
despair and the stumbling-block of critics, to 
whose extraordinary effusions, as the Quarterly 
Review neatly puts it, "existing standards 
cannot be applied with exactness." There is 
Emily Bronte, whose verses we were permitted 
for years to ignore, and in whom we are now 



138 BOOKS AND MEN. 

peremptorily commanded to recognize a true 
poet. Miss Mary Robinson, who, in common 
with most female biographers, is an enthusiast 
rather than a critic, never wearies of praising 
the " splendid and vigorous movement " of 
Emily Bronte's poems, " with their surplus 
imagination, their sweeping impressiveness, 
their instinctive music and irregular rightness 
of form." On the other hand, Mr. Gosse, 
while acknowledging in them a very high 
order of merit, laments that such burning 
thoughts should be " concealed for the most 
part in the tame and ambling measures dedi- 
cated to female verse by the practice of Felicia 
Hemans and Letitia Landon." So far, in- 
deed, from recognizing the " vigorous move- 
ment " and " irregular rightness of form " 
which Miss Robinson so much admires, he 
describes A Death Scene, one of the finest in 
point of conception, as " clothed in a measure 
that is like the livery of a charitable institu- 
tion." " There 's allays two 'pinions," says 
Mr. Macey, in Silas Marner ; but we cannot 
help sometimes wishing, in the cause of per- 
spicuity, that they were not so radically dif- 
ferent. 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 139 

As for the pure absurdities of criticism, they 
may be culled like flowers from every branch, 
and are pleasing curiosities for those who have 
a liking for such relics. Were human nature 
less complacent in its self-sufficiency, they 
might even serve as useful warnings to the im- 
petuous young reviewers of to-day, and so be 
not without their salutary influence on litera- 
ture. Whether the result of ignorance, or 
dullness, or bad temper, of national or reli- 
gious prejudices, or of mere personal pique, 
they have boldly challenged the ridicule of the 
world, and its amused contempt has pilloried 
them for all time. When Voltaire sneered at 
the Inferno, and thought Hamlet the work of 
a drunken savage, he at least made a bid for 
the approbation of his countrymen, who, as 
Schlegel wittily observes, were in the habit of 
speaking as though Louis XIV. had put an 
end to cannibalism in Europe. But what did 
Englishmen think when Hume informed them 
that Shakespeare was " born in a rude age, 
and educated in the lowest manner, without 
instruction from the world or from books ; " 
and that he could not uphold for any time " a 
reasonable propriety of thought " ? How did 



140 BOOKS AND MEN, 

they feel when William Maginn brutally de- 
clared that Keats 

" the doubly dead 
In that he died so young,' ' 

was but a cockney poet, who wrote vulgar in- 
decorums, " probably in the indulgence of his 
social propensities " ? How did they feel when 
the same Maginn called the Adonais " dreary 
nonsense " and " a wild waste of words," and 
devoted bitter pages to proving that Shelley 
was not only undeserving, but " hopeless of 
poetic reputation " ? Yet surely indignation 
must have melted into laughter, when this 
notable reviewer — who has been recently re- 
printed as a shining light for the new genera- 
tion — added serenely that " a hundred or a 
hundred thousand verses might be made, equal 
to the best in Adonais, without taking the pen 
off the paper." This species of sweeping as- 
sertion has been repeated by critics more than 
once, to the annoyance of their friends and 
the malicious delight of their enemies. Bus- 
kin, who, with all his gifts, seems cursed with 
what Mr. Bagehot calls " a mind of contrary 
flexure, whose particular bent it is to contra- 
dict what those around them say," has ven- 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 141 

tured to tell the world that any head clerk of 
a bank could write a better history of Greece 
than Mr. Grote, if he would have the vanity to 
waste his time over it ; and I have heard a man 
of fair attainments and of sound scholarship 
contend that there were twenty living authors 
who could write plays as fine as Shakespeare's. 
Jeffrey's extraordinary blunders are too well 
known to need repetition, and Christopher 
North w T as not without his share of similar 
mishaps ; Walpole cheerfully sentenced Scan- 
dinavian poetry in the bulk as the horrors of 
a Runic savage ; Madame de Stael objected 
to the " commonness " of Miss Austen's nov- 
els ; Wordsworth thought Voltaire dull, and 
Southey complained that Lamb's essays lacked 
" sound religious feeling ; " George Borrow, 
whose literary tastes were at least as erratic as 
they were pronounced, condemned Sir Walter 
Scott's Woodstock as " tiresome, trashy, and 
unprincipled," and ranked Shakespeare, Pope, 
Addison, and the Welsh bard Huw Morris to- 
gether as " great poets," apparently without 
recognizing any marked difference in their re- 
spective claims. Then there is Taine, who 
finds Pendennis and Vanity Fair too full of 



142 BOOKS AND MEN. 

sermons ; Mr. Dudley Warner, who compares 
the mild and genial humor of Washington 
Irving to the acrid vigor of Swift ; and Mr. 
Howells, who, perhaps in pity for our sense 
of loss, would fain persuade us that we could 
no longer endure either the " mannerisms " 
of Dickens or the " confidential attitude " of 
Thackeray, were we happy enough to see these 
great men still in our midst. 

Imagine, ye who can, the fiery Hazlitt's 
wrath, if he but knew that in punishment for 
his youthful admiration of the Nouvelle He- 
loi'se a close resemblance has been traced by 
friendly hands between himself and its author. 
Think of Lord Byron's feelings, if he could 
hear Mr. Swinburne saying that it was greatly 
to his — Byron's — credit that he knew him- 
self for a third-rate poet ! Even though it be 
the only thing to his credit that Swinburne 
has so far discovered, one doubts whether it 
would greatly mollify his lordship, or reconcile 
him to being classed as a " Bernesque poet," 
and the companion of those two widely differ- 
ent creatures, Southey and Offenbach. Per- 
haps, indeed, his lively sense of humor would 
derive a more positive gratification from 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 143 

watching his angry critic run amuck through 
adjectives with frenzied agility. Such sen- 
tences as " the blundering, floundering, lum- 
bering, and stumbling stanzas of Childe Har- 
old, . . . the gasping, ranting, wheezing, 
broken-winded verse, . . . the hideous absurd- 
ities and jolter-headed jargon," must surely be 
less deeply offensive to Lord Byron's admirers 
than to Mr. Swinburne's. They come as near 
to describing the noble beauty of Childe Har- 
old as does Southey's senseless collection of 
words to describing the cataract of Lodore, 
or any other cataract in existence ; and, since 
the days when Milton and Salmasius hurled 
u Latin billingsgate" at each other's heads, 
we have had no stronger argument in favor of 
the comeliness of moderation. 

" The most part of Mr. Swinburne's criti- 
cism," hints a recent reviewer, " is surely very 
much of a personal matter, — personal, one 
may say, in expression as well as in sensation." 
He has always a " neat hand at an epithet," 
and the " jolter-headed jargon " of Byron is 
no finer in its way than the " fanfaronade and 
falsetto of Gray." But even the charms of 
alliteration, joined to the fish-wife's slang 



144 BOOKS AND MEN. 

which has recently so tickled the fancy of 
Punch, 1 cannot wholly replace that clear- 
headed serenity which is the true test of a crit- 
ic's worth and the most pleasing expression of 
his genius. He should have no visible inclina- 
tion to praise or blame ; it is not his business, 
as Mr. Bagehot puts it, to be thankful, and 
neither is he the queen's attorney pleading for 
conviction. Mr. Matthew Arnold, who con- 
sidered that Byron was " the greatest natural 
force, the greatest elementary power, which 
has appeared in our literature since Shake- 
speare," presented his arguments plainly and 
without the faintest show of enthusiasm. He 
did not feel the need of reviling somebody 
else in order to emphasize his views, and he 
did not care to advance opinions without some 
satisfactory explanation of their existence. 
Mr. Courthope may content himself with say- 
ing that a matter is one not for argument, but 
for perception ; but Mr. Arnold gave a reason 
for the faith that was in him. Mere prefer- 
ence on the part of a critic is not a sufficient 
sanction for his verdicts, or at least it does not 

1 " But when poet Swinburne steps into the fray, 

And slangs like a fish- wife, what, what can one say ? " 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 145 

warrant his imparting them to the public. 
Swinburne may honestly think four lines of 
Wordsworth to be of more value than the 
whole of Byron, but that is no reason why 
we should think so too. When Mr. George 
Saintsbury avows a strong personal liking for 
some favorite authors, — Borrow and Peacock, 
for instance, — he modestly states that this 
fact is not in itself a convincing proof of their 
merit ; but when Mr. Ernest Myers says that 
he would sacrifice the whole of Childe Har- 
old to preserve one of Macaulay's Lays, he 
seems to be offering a really impressive piece 
of evidence. The tendency of critics to rush 
into print with whatever they chance to think 
has resulted in readers who naturally believe 
that w^hat they think is every bit as good. 
Macaulay and Walter Savage Landor are both 
instances of men whose unusual powers of dis- 
cernment were too often dimmed by their prej- 
udices. Macaulay knew that Montgomery's 
poetry was bad, but he failed to see that Fou- 
que's prose was good; and Landor hit right 
and left, amid friends and foes, like the 
blinded Ajax scourging the harmless flocks. 
It is quite as amusing and far less painful 



146 BOOKS AND MEN. 

to turn from the critics' indiscriminate abuse 
to their equally indiscriminate praise, and to 
read the glowing tributes heaped upon authors 
whose mediocrity has barely saved them from 
oblivion. Compare the universal rapture which 
greeted " the majestick numbers of Mr. Cow- 
ley " to the indifference which gave scant wel- 
come to the Hesperides. Mr. Gosse tells us 
that for half a century Katherine Philips, the 
matchless Orinda, was an unquestioned light 
in English song. " Her name was mentioned 
with those of Sappho and Corinna, and lan- 
guage was used without reproach which would 
have seemed a little fulsome if addressed to 
the Muse herself." 

11 For, as in angels, we 
Do in thy verses see 
Both improved sexes eminently meet ; 

They are than Man more strong, and more than Woman 
sweet." 

So sang Cowley to this much admired lady ; 
and the Earl of Roscommon, in some more ex- 
travagant and amusing stanzas, asserted it to 
be his unique experience that, on meeting a 
pack of angry wolves in Scythia, 

" The magic of Orinda' s name 
Not only can their fierceness tame, 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 147 

But, if that mighty word I once rehearse, 
They seem submissively to roar in verse." 

"It is easier to flatter than to praise," says 
Jean Paul, but even flattery is not always the 
facile work it seems. 

Sir Walter Scott, who was strangely dis- 
posed to undervalue his own merit as a poet, 
preserved the most genuine enthusiasm for the 
work of others. When his little daughter was 
asked by James Ballantyne what she thought 
of The Lady of the Lake, she answered with 
perfect simplicity that she had not read it. 
" Papa says there is nothing so bad for young 
people as reading bad poetry." Yet Sir Wal- 
ter always spoke of Madoc and Thalaba with 
a reverence that would seem ludicrous were it 
not so frankly sincere. Southey himself could 
not have admired them more ; and when Jeffrey 
criticised Madoc with flippant severity in the 
Edinburgh Review, we find Scott hastening to 
the rescue in a letter full of earnest .and sooth- 
ing praise. " A poem whose merits are of that 
higher tone," he argues, " does not immediately 
take with the public at large. It is even possi- 
ble that during your own life you must be con- 
tented with the applause of the few whom na- 



148 BOOKS AND MEN, 

ture has gifted with the rare taste for discrim- 
inating in poetry. But the mere readers of 
verse must one day come in, and then Madoc 
will assume his real place, at the feet of Mil- 
ton." 2 The mere readers of verse, being in 
no wise responsible for Milton's position in lit- 
erature, have so far put no one at his feet ; nor 
have they even verified Sir Walter's judgment 
when, writing again to Southey, he says with 
astonishing candor, " I am not such an ass as 
not to know that you are my better in poetry, 
though I have had, probably but for a time, 
the tide of popularity in my favor." The 
same spirit of self -depreciation, rare enough to 
be attractive, made him write to Joanna Bail- 
lie that, after reading some of her songs, he 
had thrust by his own in despair. 

But if Sir Walter was an uncertain critic, 
his views on criticism were marked by sound 
and kindly discretion, and his patience under 
attack was the result of an evenly balanced 
mind, conscious of its own strength, yet too 

1 Compare Charles Lamb's letter to Coleridge: " On the 
whole I expect JSouthey one day to rival Milton ; I already 
deem him equal to Cowper, and superior to all living' poets 
besides.' ' 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 149 

sane to believe itself infallible. He had a sin- 
gular fancy for showing his manuscripts to his 
friends, and it is quite delicious to see how 
doubtful and discouraging were their first com- 
ments. Gray, when hard pressed by the " light 
and genteel " . verses of his companion, Rich- 
ard West, was not more frugal of his doled- 
out praises. But Scott exacted homage neither 
from his acquaintances nor from the public. 
When it came — and it did come very soon in 
generous abundance — he basked willingly 
in the sunshine ; but he had no uneasy vanity 
to be frightened by the shade. He would have 
been as sincerely amused to hear Mr. Borrow 
call Woodstock " tiresome, trashy, and unprin- 
cipled " as Matthew Arnold used to be when 
pelted with strong language by the London 
newspapers. "I have made a study of the 
Corinthian or leading-article style," wrote the 
great critic, with exasperating urbanity ; " and 
I know its exigencies, and that they are no 
more to be quarreled with than the law of 
gravitation." In fact, the most hopeless bar- 
rier to strife is the steady indifference of a 
man who knows he has work to do, and who 
goes on doing it, irrespective of anybody's 



150 BOOKS AND MEN. 

opinion. Lady Harriet Asliburton, who dearly- 
loved the war of words, in which she was sure 
to be a victor, was forced to confess that where 
no friction was excited, even her barbed shafts 
fell harmless. " It is like talking into a soft 
surface," she sighed, with whimsical despond- 
ency ; " there is no rebound." 

American critics have the reputation of be- 
ing more kind-hearted than discriminating. 
The struggling young author, unless overween- 
ingly foolish, has little to fear from their 
hands ; and, if his reputation be once fairly 
established, all he chooses to write is received 
with a gratitude which seems excessive to the 
more exacting readers of France and England. 
If he be a humorist, we are always alert and 
straining to see the fun ; if a story-teller, we 
politely smother our yawns, and say something 
about a keen analysis of character, a marked 
originality of treatment, or a purely unconven- 
tional theme ; if a scholar, no pitfalls are dug 
for his unwary feet by reviewers like Mr. Col- 
lins. Such virulent and personal attacks we 
consider very uncomfortable reading, as in 
truth they are, and we have small appetite at 
any time for a sound kernel beneath a bitter 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 151 

rind. Yet surely in these days, when young 
students turn impatiently from the very foun- 
tain-heads of learning, too much stress cannot 
be laid on the continuity of literature, and on 
the absolute importance of the classics to those 
who would intelligently explore the treasure- 
house of English verse. Moreover, Mr. Col- 
lins has aimed a few well-directed shafts 
against the ingenious system of mutual admira- 
tion, by which a little coterie of writers, mod- 
ern Delia Cruscans, help each other into prom- 
inence, while an unsuspecting public is made 
" the willing dupe of puffers." This delicate 
game, which is now conducted with such well- 
rewarded skill by a few enterprising players, 
consists, not so much in open flattery, though 
there is plenty of that too, as in the minute 
chronicling of every insignificant circumstance 
of each other's daily lives, from the hour at 
which they breakfast to the amount of exercise 
they find conducive to appetite, and the shape 
and size of their dining-room tables. We are 
stifled by the literary gossip which fills the 
newspapers and periodicals. Nothing is too 
trivial, nothing too irrelevant, to be told ; and 
when, in the midst of an article on any subject, 



152 



BOOKS AND MEN. 









from grand-dukes to gypsies, a writer gravely 
stops to explain that a perfectly valueless re- 
mark was made to him on such an occasion 
by his friend such a one, whose interesting pa- 
pers on such a topic will be well remembered 
by the readers of such a magazine, we are 
forcibly reminded of the late Master of Trin- 
ity's sarcasm as to the many things that are 
too unimportant to be forgotten. 

People fed on sugared praises cannot be ex- 
pected to feel an appetite for the black broth 
of honest criticism. There was a time, now 
happily past, when the reviewer's skill lay 
simply in the clever detection of flaws ; it was 
his business in life to find out whatever was 
weak or absurd in an author, and to hold it up 
for the amusement of those who were not 
quick enough to see such things for themselves. 
Now his functions are of a totally different or- 
der, and a great many writers seem to think it 
his sole duty to bring them before the public 
in an agreeable light, to say something about 
their books which will be pleasant for them to 
read and to pass over in turn to their friends. 
If he cannot do this, it is plain he has no sanc- 
tion to say anything at all. That the critic 






CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 153 

has a duty to the public itself is seldom re- 
membered ; that his work is of the utmost im- 
portance, and second in value only to the orig- 
inal conception he analyzes, is a truth few 
people take the pains to grasp. Coleridge 
thought him a mere maggot, battening upon 
authors' brains ; yet how often has he helped 
us to gain some clear insight into this most 
shapeless and shadowy of great men ! Words- 
worth underrated his utility, yet Wordsworth's 
criticisms, save those upon his own poems, are 
among the finest we can read ; and, to argue 
after the fashion of Mr. Myers, the aver- 
age student would gladly exchange The Idiot 
Boy, or Goody Blake and Harry Gill, for an- 
other letter upon Dryden. As a matter of 
fact, the labors of the true critic are more es- 
sential to the author, even, than to the reader. 
It is natural that poets and novelists should 
devoutly believe that the creative faculty alone 
is of any true service to the world, and that 
it cannot rightly be put to trial by those to 
whom this higher gift is rigorously denied. 
But the critical power, though on a distinctly 
lower level than the creative, is of inestimable 
help in its development. Great work thrives 



154 BOOKS AND MEN. 

best in a critical atmosphere, and the clear 
light thrown upon the past is the surest of 
guides to the future. When the standard of 
criticism is high, when the influence of classi- 
cal and foreign literature is understood and 
appreciated, when slovenly and ill-digested 
work is promptly recognized as such, then, and 
then only, may we look for the full expansion 
of a country's genius. To be satisfied with 
less is an amiable weakness rather than an in- 
vigorating stimulant to perfection. 

Matthew Arnold's definition of true criti- 
cism is familiar to all his readers ; it is simply 
" a disinterested endeavor to learn and propa- 
gate the best that is known and thought in the 
world." But by disinterestedness he did not 
mean merely that a critic must have no dis- 
tinct design of flattering either his subject or 
his audience. He meant that in order to rec- 
ognize what is really the best a man must free 
himself from every form of passion or preju- 
dice, from every fixed opinion, from every 
practical consideration. He must not look at 
things from an English, or a French, or an 
American, standpoint. He has no business 
with politics or patriotism. These things are 



CURIOSITIES OF CRITICISM. 155 

excellent in themselves, and may be allowed to 
control his actions in other matters ; but when 
the question at issue is the abstract beauty of 
a poem, a painting, a statue, or a piece of ar- 
chitecture, he is expected to stand apart from 
his every-day self, and to judge of it by some 
higher and universal law. This is a difficult 
task for most men, who do not respire easily 
in such exceedingly rarefied air, and who have 
no especial taste for blotting out their individ- 
uality. With Macaulay, for instance, political 
considerations frankly outweigh all others ; he 
gives us the good Whig and the wicked Tory 
on every page, after the fashion of Hogarth's 
idle and industrious apprentices. Mr. Bage- 
hot, while a far less transparent writer, man- 
ifests himself indirectly in his literary prefer- 
ences. When we have read his essay on 
Shakespeare, we feel pretty sure we know his 
views on universal suffrage. Mr. Andrew 
Lang has indeed objected vehemently to the 
intrusion of politics into literature, perhaps 
because of a squeamish distaste for the harsh 
wranglings of the political field. But Mr. 
Arnold was incapable of confusing the two 
ideas. His taste for Celtic poetry and his 



1 



156 BOOKS AND MEN. 

attitude towards home rule are both perfectly- 
defined and perfectly isolated sentiments ; just 
as his intelligent admiration and merciless con- 
demnation of Heinrich Heine stand side by- 
side, living witnesses of a mind that held its 
own balance, losing nothing that was good, 
condoning nothing that was evil, as far re- 
moved from weak enthusiasm on the one hand 
as from frightened depreciation on the other. 

It is folly to rail at the critic until we have 
learned his value ; it is folly to ignore a help 
which we are not too wise to need. " The best 
that is known and thought in the world " does 
not stand waiting for admission on our door- 
steps. Like the happiness of Hesiod, it 
"abides very far hence, and the way to it is 
long and steep and rough." It is hard to seek, 
hard to find, and not easily understood when 
discovered. Criticism does not mean a ran- 
dom opinion on the last new novel, though 
even the most dismal of light literature comes 
fairly within its scope. It means a disinter- 
ested endeavor to learn and to teach whatever 
wisdom or beauty has been added by every 
age and every nation to the great inheritance 
of mankind. 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 

"When Mr. Matthew Arnold delivered his 
lecture on Emerson in this country, several 
years ago, it was delightful to see how the 
settled melancholy of his audience, who had 
come for a panegyric and did not get it, 
melted into genial applause when the lecturer 
touched at last upon the one responsive chord 
which bound his subject, his hearers, and him- 
self in a sympathetic harmony, — I mean 
Emerson's lifelong, persistent, and unconquer- 
able optimism. This was perhaps the more 
apparent because Mr. Arnold's addresses were 
not precisely the kind with which we Ameri- 
cans are best acquainted ; they were singularly 
deficient in the oratorical flights that are wont 
to arouse our enthusiasm, and in the sudden 
descents to colloquial anecdote by which we 
expect to be amused. For real enjoyment it 
was advisable to read them over carefully 
after they were printed, and the oftener they 



158 BOOKS AND MEN. 

were so read the better they repaid perusal ; 
but this not being the point of view from 
which ordinary humanity is apt to regard a 
lecture, it was with prompt and genuine re- 
lief that the audience hailed a personal appeal 
to that cheerful, healthy hopefulness of dispo- 
sition which we like to be told we possess in 
common with greater men. It is always pleas- 
ant to hear that happiness is " the due and 
eternal result of labor, righteousness, and ve- 
racity," and to have it hinted to us that we 
have sane and wholesome minds because we 
think so; it is pleasanter still to be assured 
that the disparaging tone which religion as- 
sumes in relation to this earthly happiness 
arises from a well-intentioned desire to wean 
us from it, and not at all from a clear-sighted 
conviction of its feeble worth. When Mr. 
Arnold recited for our benefit a cheerless little 
scrap of would-be pious verse which he had 
heard read in a London schoolroom, all about 
the advantages of dying, — 

1 ' For the world at best is a dreary place, 
And my life is getting low," — 

we were glad to laugh over such dismal phi- 
losophy, and to feel within ourselves an exhila- 
rating superiority of soul. 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 159 

But self-satisfaction, if as buoyant as gas, 
has an ugly trick of collapsing when full- 
blown, and facts are stony things that refuse 
to melt away in the sunshine of a smile. Mr. 
Arnold, like Mr. Emerson, preached the gos- 
pel of compensation with much picturesque- 
ness and beauty ; but his arguments would be 
more convincing if our own observation and 
experience did not so mulishly stand in their 
way. A recent writer in Cornhill, who ought 
to be editing a magazine for Arcady, asserts 
with charming simplicity that man " finds a 
positive satisfaction in putting himself on a 
level with others, and in recognizing that he 
has his just share of life's enjoyments." But 
suppose that he cannot reach the level of 
others, or be persuaded that his share is just ? 
The good things of life are not impartially 
divided, like the spaces on a draught-board, 
and man, who is a covetous animal, will never 
be content with a little, while his comrade 
enjoys a great deal. Neither does he find the 
solace that is expected in the contemplation of 
the unfortunate who has nothing ; for this 
view of the matter, besides being a singular 
plea for the compensation theory, appeals too 



160 BOOKS AND MEN. 

coarsely to that root of selfishness which we 
are none of us anxious to exhibit. The aver- 
age fustian-clad man is not too good to envy 
his neighbor's broadcloth, but he is too good to 
take comfort in his brother's nakedness. The 
sight of it may quicken his gratitude, but can 
hardly increase his happiness. Yet what did 
Mr. Arnold mean in his poem of Consolation 
— which is very charming, but not in the least 
consoling — save that the joys and sorrows of 
each hour balance themselves in a just propor- 
tion, and that the lovers' raptures and the 
blind robber's pain level the eternal scales. It 
is not a cheering bit of philosophy, whatever 
might have been the author's intention, for the 
very existence of suffering darkens the horizon 
for thoughtful souls. It would be an insult 
on the part of the lovers — lovers are odious 
things at best — to offer their arrogant bliss 
as indemnification to the wretch for his brim- 
ming cup of bitterness ; but the vision of his 
seared eyeballs and sin-laden soul might justly 
moderate their own expansive felicity. Sor- 
row has a claim on all mankind, and when the 
utmost that Mr. Arnold could promise for our 
consolation was that time, the impartial, 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 161 

' ' Brings round to all men 
Some undimm'd hours," 

we did not feel that he afforded us any broad 
ground for self-complacency. 

The same key is struck with more firmness 
in that strange poem, The Sick King in 
Bokhara, where the vizier can find no better 
remedy for his master's troubled mind than by 
pointing out to him the vast burden of misery 
which rests upon the world, and which he is 
utterly powerless to avert. It is hardly worth 
while, so runs the vizier's argument, for the 
king to vex his soul over the sufferings of one 
poor criminal, whom his pity could not save, 
when the same tragic drama is being played 
with variations in every quarter of the globe. 
Behold, thousands are toiling for hard mas- 
ters, armies are laying waste the peaceful land, 
robbers are harassing the mountain shepherds, 
and little children are being carried into cap- 
tivity. 

u The Kaffirs also (whom God curse !) 
Vex one another night and day ; 
There are the lepers, and all sick ; 
There are the poor, who faint away. 



162 BOOKS AND MEN. 

11 All these have sorrow and keep still, 
Whilst other men make cheer and sing-. 
Wilt thou have pity on all these ? 
No, nor on this dead dog*, O king ! ' ' 

Whereupon the sick monarch, who does not 
seem greatly cheered by this category, adds in 
a disconsolate sort of way that he too, albeit 
envied of all men, finds his secret burdens 
hard to bear, and that not even to him is 
granted the fulfillment of desire, — 

" And what I would, I cannot do." 

Unless the high priests of optimism shall find 
us some stouter arguments than these with 
which to make merry our souls, it is to be 
feared that their opponents, who have at least 
the knack of stating their cases with pitiless 
lucidity, will hardly think our buoyancy worth 
pricking. 

As for that small and compact band who 
steadfastly refuse to recognize in " this sad, 
swift life " any occasion for self -congratula- 
tion, they are not so badly off, in spite of their 
funereal trappings, as we are commonly given 
to suppose. It is only necessary to read a 
page of their writings — and few people care 
to read more — to appreciate how thoroughly 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 163 

they enjoy the situation, and how, sitting with 
Hecate in her cave, they weave delicate 
thoughts out of their chosen darkness. They 
are full of the hopefulness of despair, and con- 
fident in the strength of the world's weakness. 
They assume that they not only represent 
great fundamental truths, but that these truths 
are for the first time being put forth in a con- 
crete shape for the edification and adherence 
of mankind. Mr. Edgar Salfcus informs us 
that, while optimism is as old as humanity, 
" systematic pessimism " is but a growth of 
the last half century, before which transition 
period we can find only individual expressions 
of discontent. Mr. Mallock claims that he is 
the first who has ever inquired into the worth 
of life " in the true scientific spirit." But 
when we come to ask in what systematic or 
scientific pessimism differs from the older 
variety which has found a home in the hearts 
of men from the beginning, we do not receive 
any very coherent answer. From Mr. Mal- 
lock, indeed, we hardly expect any. It is his 
province in literature to propose problems 
which the reader, after the fashion of The 
Lady or the Tiger ? is permitted to solve for 






164 BOOKS AND MEN. 

himself. But does Mr. Saltus really suppose 
that Schopenhauer and Hartmann have made 
much headway in reducing sadness to a sci- 
ence, that love is in any danger of being sup- 
planted by the " genius of the species," or that 
the " principle of the unconscious " is at all 
likely to extinguish our controlling force? 
What have these two subtle thinkers said to 
the world that the world has not practically 
known and felt for thousands of years already ? 
Hegesias, three centuries before Christ, was 
quite as systematic as Schopenhauer, and his 
system begot more definite results ; for several 
of his disciples hanged themselves out of defer- 
ence for his teachings, whereas it may be seri- 
ously doubted whether all the persuasive argu- 
ments of the Welt als Wille und Vorstellung 
have ever made or are likely to make a single 
celibate. Marcus Aurelius was as logically 
convinced of the inherent worthlessness of life 
as Dr. Hartmann, and, without any scientific 
apparatus whatever, he stamped his views on 
the face of a whole nation. We are now 
anxiously warned by Mr. Saltus not to con- 
found scientific pessimism with that accidental 
melancholy which is the result of our own per- 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 165 

sonal misfortunes ; but Leopardi, whose unut- 
terable despair arose solely from his personal 
misfortunes, or rather from his moral inability 
to cope with them, — for Joubert, who suffered 
as much, has left a trail of heavenly light upon 
his path, — Leopardi alone lays bare for us the 

" Tears that spring and increase 
In the barren places of mirth, ' ' 

with an appalling accuracy from which we are 
glad to turn away our shocked and troubled 
eyes. 

It is a humiliating fact that, notwithstand- 
ing our avaricious greed for novelties, we are 
forced, when sincere, to confess that " les 
anciens out tout dit" and that it is probable 
the contending schools of thought have always 
held the same relative positions they do now : 
optimism glittering in the front ranks as a 
deservedly popular favorite ; pessimism speak- 
ing with a still, persistent voice to those who, 
unluckily for themselves, have the leisure and 
the intelligence to attend. Schopenhauer 
hated the Jews with all his heart for being 
such stubborn optimists, and it is true that 
their records bear ample witness to the strong 
hold they took on the pleasures and the profits 



166 BOOKS AND MEN. 

of the world. But their noblest and clearest 
voices, Isaias, Jeremias, Ezekiel, speak a dif- 
ferent language ; and Solomon, who, it must 
be granted, enjoyed a wider experience than 
most men, renders a cheerless verdict of vanity 
and vexation of spirit for " all things that are 
done under the sun." The Egyptians, owing 
chiefly to their tender solicitude about their 
tombs, have taken rank in history as a people 
enamoured rather of death than of life ; and 
from the misty flower-gardens of Buddha have 
been gathered for centuries the hemlock and 
nightshade that adorn the funeral-wreaths of 
literature. 

But the Greeks, the blithe and jocund 
Greeks, who, as Mr. Arnold justly observed, 
ought never to have been either sick or sorry, 
— to them, at least, we can turn for that 
wholesome joy, that rational delight in mere 
existence, which we have somehow let slip 
from our nerveless grasp. Whether it was 
because this world gave him so much, such 
rare perfection in all material things, or be- 
cause his own conception of the world to come 
promised him so exceedingly little, — for one 
or both of these reasons, the average Greek 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 1G7 

preferred to cling tenaciously to the good he 
had, to the hills, and the sea, and the sunshine, 
rather than to 

"Move among shadows, a shadow, and wail by impassable 
streams ; ' ' 

and his choice, under the circumstances, is 
perhaps hardly a matter for amazement. That 
a people so richly endowed should be in love 
with life seems to us right and natural ; that 
amid their keen realization of its fullness and 
beauty we find forever sounded — and not 
always in a minor key — the same old notes 
of weariness and pain is a discouraging item, 
when we would like to build up an exhaustive 
theory of happiness. Far, far back, in the 
Arcadian days of Grecian piety and simplicity, 
the devout agriculturist Hesiod looked sorrow- 
fully over the golden fields, searching vainly 
for a joy that remained ever out of reach. 
Homer, in a passage which Mr. Peacock says 
is nearly always incorrectly translated, has 
given us a summary of life which would not 
put a modern German to the blush : — 

" Jove, from his urns dispensing- good and ill, 
Gives ill unmixed to some, and good and ill 
Mingled to many, good unmixed to none." 






168 BOOKS AND MEN. 

Sophocles says uncompromisingly that man's 
happiest fate is not to be born at all; and 
that, failing this good fortune, the next best 
thing is to die as quickly as possible. Menan- 
der expresses the same thought more sweet- 

ly:- 

" Whom the gods love die young ; " 

and Euripides, the most reverent soul ever 
saddened by the barrenness of paganism, 
forces into one bitter line all the bleak hope- 
lessness of which the Greek tragedy alone is 
capable : — 

11 Life is called life, but it is truly pain." 

Even as isolated sentiments, these ever-recur- 
ring reflections diminish perceptibly the sum 
of a nation's gayety, and, if we receive the 
drama as the mouthpiece of the people, we are 
inclined to wonder now and then how they 
ever could have been cheerful at all. It is 
easy, on the other hand, to point to Admetos 
and Antigone as two standing examples of the 
great value the Greeks placed upon life ; for 
the sacrifice of Alkestis was not in their eyes 
the sordid bargain it appears in ours, and the 
daughter of CEdipus goes to her death with a 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 169 

shrinking reluctance seemingly out of keeping 
with her heroic mould. But Admetos, excuse 
him as we may, is but a refinement of a com- 
mon type, old as mankind, and no great credit 
to its ranks. He may be found in every page 
of the world's history, from the siege of Jeru- 
salem to the siege of Paris. A Kempis has 
transfixed him with sharp scorn in his chapter 
On the Consideration of Human Misery, and 
a burning theatre or a sinking ship betray 
him, shorn of poetical disguise, in all his un- 
adorned brutality. But to find fault with 
Antigone, the noblest figure in classical litera- 
ture, because she manifests a natural dislike 
for being buried alive is to carry our ideal 
of heroism a little beyond reason. Flesh and 
blood shrink from the sickening horror that 
lays its cold hand upon her heart. She is 
young, beautiful, and beloved, standing on the 
threshold of matrimony, and clinging with 
womanly tenderness to the sacred joys that 
are never to be hers. She is a martyr in a 
just cause, but without one ray of that divine 
ecstasy that sent Christian maidens smiling to 
the lions. Beyond a chilly hope that she will 
not be unwelcome to her parents, or to the 



170 BOOKS AND MEN. 

brother she has vainly striven to save from 
desecration, Antigone descends 

" Into the dreary mansions of the dead," 

uncheered by any throb of expectation. Fi- 
nally, the manner of her death is too appalling 
to be met with stoicism. Juliet, the bravest 
of Shakespeare's heroines, quails before the 
thought of a few unconscious hours spent in 
the darkness of the tomb ; and if our more 
exalted views demand indifference to such a 
fate, we must not look to the Greeks, nor to 
him who 

" Saw life steadily, and saw it whole," 

for the fulfillment of our idle fancy. 

Youth, health, beauty, and virtue were to 
the ancient mind the natural requisites for 
happiness; yet even these favors were so 
far at best from securing it, that " nature's 
most pleasing invention, early death," was too 
often esteemed the rarest gift of all. When 
Schopenhauer says of the fourth command- 
ment, " c Honor thy father and thy mother, 
that thy days may be long in the land,' — ah ! 
what a misfortune to hold out as a reward for 
duty ! " we feel both shocked and repulsed by 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 171 

this deliberate rejection of what is offered us 
as a blessing; but it is at least curious to note 
that the happy Greeks held much the same 
opinion. When the sons of Cydippe — those 
models of filial devotion — shamed not to yoke 
themselves like oxen to the cart, and with 
strong young arms to drag their mother to the 
feast of Hera, the ancient priestess begged of 
the dread goddess that she would grant them 
her best gift ; and the prayer was answered, 
not with length of days, nor with the regal 
power and splendor promised of old to Paris, 
but with a boon more precious still than all. 

" Whereat the statue from its jeweled eyes 
Lightened, and thunder ran from cloud to cloud 
In heaven, and the vast company was hushed. 
But when they sought for Cleobis, behold, 
He lay there still, and by his brother's side 
Lay Biton, smiling- through ambrosial curls, 
And when the people touched them they were dead. " * 

It is hard to assert in the face of a narra- 
tive like this that the Greeks valued nothing 
as much as the mere delight of existence. 

As for the favorite theory that Christianity 
is responsible for the weakening of earthly 
happiness, and that her ministers have system- 

1 The Sons of Cydippe, by Edmund Gosse. 



172 BOOKS AND MEN 

atically disparaged the things of this world in 
order to quicken our desire for things eternal, 
it might suffice to hint that Christianity is a 
large word, and represents at present a great 
many different phases of thought. Mr. Ar- 
nold objected, rationally enough, to the lugu- 
brious hymns from which the English middle 
classes are wont to draw their spiritual refresh- 
ment ; and Dr. Holmes, it will be remem- 
bered, has spoken quite as strongly in regard to 
their depressing influence upon New England 
households. But Christianity and the modern 
hymn-book are by no means synonymous 
terms, and to claim that the early church de- 
liberately lowered the scale of human joy is 
a very different and a very grave charge, and 
one which Mr. Pater, in Marius the Epicu- 
rean, has striven valiantly to refute. With 
what clear and delicate touches he paints for 
us the innocent gayety of that new birth, — a 
gayety with no dark background, and no heart- 
breaking limits of time and space. Compared 
to it, the sombre and multitudinous rites of 
the Romans and the far-famed blitheness of 
the Greeks seem incurably narrow and insipid. 
The Christians of the catacombs were essen- 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 173 

tially a cheerful body, having for their favorite 
emblem the serene image of the Good Shep- 
herd, and believing firmly that " grief is the 
sister of doubt and ill-temper, and beyond all 
spirits destroyeth man." If in the Middle 
'Ages the Church apparently darkened earth to 
brighten heaven, it was simply because she 
took life as she found it, and strove, as she 
still strives, to teach the only doctrine of com- 
pensation that the tyranny of facts cannot 
cheaply overthrow. The mediaeval peasant 
may have been less badly off, on the whole, 
than we are generally pleased to suppose. He 
was, from all accounts, a robust, unreasoning 
creature, who held his neck at the mercy of 
his feudal lord, and the rest of his scanty 
possessions at the discretion of the tax-gath- 
erer ; but who had not yet bared his back to 
the intolerable sting of that modern gadfly, 
the professional agitator and socialistic cham- 
pion of the poor. Yet even without this last 
and sorest infliction, it is probable that life 
was to him but little worth the living, and that 
religion could not well paint the world much 
blacker than he found it. There was scant 
need, in his case, for disparaging the pleasures 



174 BOOKS AND MEN. 

of the flesn ; and hope, lingering alone in his 
Pandora box of troubles, saved him from utter 
annihilation by pointing steadily beyond the 
doors of death. 

As a matter of fact, the abstract question of 
whether our present existence be enjoyable or 
otherwise is one which creeds do not materi- 
ally modify. A pessimist may be deeply re- 
ligious like Pascal and Chateaubriand, or ut- 
terly skeptical like Schopenhauer and Hart- 
mann, or purely philosophical like faint- 
hearted Amiel. He may agree with Lamen- 
nais, that " man is the most suffering of all 
creatures ; " or with Voltaire, that " happi- 
ness is a dream, and pain alone is real." He 
may listen to Saint Theresa, " It is given to 
us either to die or to suffer ; " or to Leopardi, 
" Life is fit only to be despised." He may 
read in the diary of that devout recluse, Eu- 
genie de Guerin that " dejection is the ground- 
work of human life ; " or he may turn over 
the pages of Sir Walter Raleigh, and see how 
a typical man of the world, soldier, courtier, 
and navigator, can find no words ardent 
enough in which to praise " the workmanship 
of death, that finishes the sorrowful business 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 175 

of a wretched life." I do not mean to imply- 
that Leopardi and Eugenie de Guerin re- 
garded existence from the same point of view, 
or found the same solace for their pain ; but 
that they both struck the keynote of pessimis- 
tic philosophy by recognizing that, in this 
world at least, sorrow outbalances joy, and 
that it is given to all men to eat their bread 
in tears. On the other hand, if we are disin- 
clined to take this view, we shall find no lack 
of guides, both saints and sinners, ready to 
look the Sphinx smilingly in the face, and 
puzzle out a different answer to her riddle. 

Another curious notion is that poets have a 
prescriptive right to pessimism, and should 
feel themselves more or less obliged, in virtue 
of their craft, to take upon their shoulders the 
weight of suffering humanity. Mr. James 
Sully, for instance, whose word, as a student 
of these matters, cannot be disregarded, 
thinks it natural and almost inevitable that a 
true poet should be of a melancholy cast, by 
reason of the sensitiveness of his moral nature 
and his exalted sympathy for pain. But it 
has yet to be proved that poets are a more 
compassionate race than their obscurer breth- 



176 . BOOKS AND MEN. 

x 

ren who sit in counting-houses or brew beer. 
They are readier, indeed, to moralize over the 
knife-grinder, but quite as slow to tip him the 
coveted sixpence. Shelley, whose soul swelled 
at the wrongs of all mankind, did not hesitate 
to inflict pain on the one human being whom 
it was his obvious duty to protect. But then 
Shelley, like Carlyle, belonged to the category 
of reformers rather than to the pessimists; 
believing that though the world as he saw it 
was as bad as possible, things could be easily 
mended by simply turning them topsy-turvy 
under his direction. Now the pessimist proper 
is the most modest of men. He does not flat- 
ter himself for a moment that he can alter the 
existing state of evil, or that the human race, 
by its combined efforts, can do anything better 
than simply cease to live. He may entertain 
with Novalis a shadowy hope that when man- 
kind, wearied of its own impotence, shall ef- 
face itself from the bosom of the earth, a bet- 
ter and happier species shall fill the vacant 
land. Or he may believe with Hartmann that 
there is even less felicity possible in the com- 
ing centuries than in the present day ; that 
humanity is already on the wane ; that the 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 177 

higher we stand in the physical and intellect- 
ual scale the more inevitable becomes our suf- 
fering ; and that when men shall have thrown 
aside the last illusion of their youth, namely, 
the hope of any obtainable good either in this 
world or in another, they will then no longer 
consent to bear the burden of life, but, by the 
supreme force of their united volition, will 
overcome the resistance of nature, and achieve 
the destruction of the universe. But under 
no circumstances does he presume to imagine 
that he, a mere unit of pain, can in any degree 
change or soften the remorseless words of 
fate. 

To return to the poets, however, it is edify- 
ing to hear Mr. Leslie Stephen assert that 
" nothing is less poetical than optimism," or to 
listen to Mr. John Addington Symonds, who, 
scanning the thoughtful soul for a solution of 
man's place in the order of creation, can find 
for him no more joyous task than, Prome- 
theus-like, 

" To dree life's doom on Caucasus.' ' 

Even when a poem appears to the uninitiated 
to be of a cheerful, not to say blithesome cast, 



178 BOOKS AND MEN. 

the critics are busy reading unutterable sad- 
ness between the lines ; and while we smile at 
Puck, and the fairies, and the sweet Titania 
nursing her uncouth love, we must remember 
that the learned Dr. Ulrici has pronounced 
the Midsummer Night's Dream to be a serious 
homily, preached with grave heart to an un- 
thinking world. But is Robin Goodfellow 
really a missionary in disguise, and are the 
poets as pessimistic in their teaching as their 
interpreters would have us understand ? Heine 
undoubtedly was, and Byron pretended to be. 
Keats, with all the pathos of his shadowed 
young life, was nothing of the sort, nor was 
Milton, nor Goethe, nor Wordsworth; while 
Scott, lost, apparently, to the decent require- 
ments of his art, confessed unblushingly that 
fortune could not long play a dirge upon his 
buoyant spirits. And Shakespeare? Why, 
he was all and everything. Day and night, 
sunlight and starlight, were embraced in his 
affluent nature. He laid his hand on the 
quivering pulses of the world, and, recogniz- 
ing that life was often in itself both pleasant 
and good, he yet knew, and knew it without 
pain, that death was better still. Look only 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 179 

at the character of Horatio, the very type of 

the blithe, sturdy, and somewhat commonplace 

young student, to whom enjoyment seems a 

birthright, — 

" A man that fortune's buffets and rewards 
Hast ta'en with equal thanks.'' 

Yet it is to this man, of all others, that the 
dying Hamlet utters the pathetic plea, — 

" If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, 
Absent thee from felicity awhile, 
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain 
To tell my story." 

Here at last is a ray of real light, guiding 
us miles away from the murky paths of mod- 
ern French and English poetry, where we have 
stumbled along, growing despondent in the 
gloom. To brave life cheerfully, to welcome 
death gladly, are possible things, after all, and 
better worth man's courage and convictions 
than to dree on Caucasus forever. 

It is ludicrous to turn from the poets to the 
politicians, but nowadays every question, even 
the old unanswered one, "Is life worth liv- 
ing? " must needs be viewed from its political 
standpoint. What can be more delightful 
than to hear Mr. Courthope assert that op- 



180 BOOKS AND MEN. 

timisni is the note of the Liberal party, while 
the Conservatives are necessarily pessimistic? 
— especially when one remembers the genial 
utterance of Mr. Walter Bagehot, contending 
that the very essence of Toryism is enjoyment. 
" The way to be satisfied with existing things 
is to enjoy them." Yet Sir Francis Doyle 
bears witness in his memoirs that the stoutest 
of Tories can find plenty to grumble at, which 
is not altogether surprising in a sadly ill-regu- 
lated world ; and while the optimistic Liberal 
fondly believes that he is marching straight 
along the chosen road to the gilded towers of 
El Dorado, the less sanguine Conservative 
contents himself with trying, after his dull, 
practical fashion, to step clear of some of the 
ruts and quagmires by the way. As for the 
extreme Radicals, — and every nation has its 
full share of these gentry, — their optimism is 
too glittering for sober eyes to bear. A clas- 
sical tradition says that each time Sisyphos 
rolls his mighty stone up the steep mountain 
side he believes that it will reach the summit ; 
and, its ever-repeated falls failing to teach him 
any surer lesson, his doom, like that of our 
reforming brothers, is softened into eternal 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 181 

hope. But it may at least be questioned 
whether the other inhabitants of Tartarus — 
none of whom, it will be remembered, are 
without their private grievances — do not oc- 
casionally weary of the dust and racket, and 
of the great ball forever thundering about 
their ears, as it rolls impotently down to the 
level whence it came. 

The pessimist, however, — be it recorded to 
his credit, — is seldom an agitating individual. 
His creed breeds indifference to others, and he 
does not trouble himself to thrust his views 
upon the unconvinced. We have, indeed, an 
anecdote of Dr. Johnson, who broadly as- 
serted upon one occasion that no one could 
well be happy in this world, whereupon an un- 
reasonable old lady had the bad taste to con- 
tradict him, and to insist that she, for one, 
was happy, and knew it. " Madam," replied 
the irate philosopher, " it is impossible. You 
are old, you are ugly, you are sickly and poor. 
How, then, can you be happy ? " But this, 
we think, was rather a natural burst of indig- 
nation on the good doctor's part than a dis- 
tinct attempt at proselytizing, though it is 
likely that he somewhat damped the boasted 



182 BOOKS AND MEN. 

felicity of his antagonist. Schopenhauer, the 
great apostle of pessimism, while willing 
enough to make converts on a grand scale, 
was scornfully unconcerned about the every- 
day opinions of his every-day — I was going 
to say associates, but the fact is that Schopen- 
hauer was never guilty of really associating 
with anybody. He had at all times the cour- 
age of his convictions, and delighted in illus- 
trating his least attractive theories. Teaching 
asceticism, he avoided women ; despising hu- 
man companionship, he isolated himself from 
men. A luminous selfishness guided him 
through life, and saved him from an incredible 
number of discomforts. It was his rule to 
expect nothing, to desire as little as possible, 
and to learn all he could. Want, he held to 
be the scourge of the poor, as ennui is that of 
the rich ; accordingly, he avoided the one by 
looking sharply after his money, and the other 
by working with unremitting industry. Pleas- 
ure, he insisted, was but a purely negative 
quality, a mere absence from pain. He smiled 
at the sweet, hot delusions of youth, and 
shrugged his shoulders over the limitless fol- 
lies of manhood, regarding both from the 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 183 

standpoint of a wholly disinterested observer. 
If the test of happiness in the Arabian para- 
dise be to hear the measured beating of one's 
own heart, Schopenhauer was certainly quali- 
fied for admission. Even in this world he 
was so far from being miserable, that an at- 
mosphere of snug comfort surrounds the man 
whose very name has become a synonym for 
melancholy; and to turn from his cold and 
witty epigrams to the smothered despair that 
burdens Leopardi's pages is like stepping at 
once from a pallid, sunless afternoon into the 
heart of midnight. It is always a pleasant 
task for optimists to dwell as much as possible 
on the buoyancy with which every healthy 
man regards his unknown future, and on the 
natural pleasure he takes in recalling the 
brightness of the past ; but Leopardi, playing 
the trump card of pessimism, demonstrates 
with merciless precision the insufficiency of 
such relief. We cannot in reason expect, he 
argues, that, with youth behind us and old 
age in front, our future will be any improve- 
ment on our past, for with increasing years 
come increasing sorrows to all men ; and as 
for the boasted happiness of that past, which 






184 BOOKS AND MEN, 

of us would live it over again for the sake of 
the joys it contained ? Memory cheats us no 
less than hope by hazing over those things 
that we would fain forget ; but who that has 
plodded on to middle age would take back 
upon his shoulders ten of the vanished years, 
with their mingled pleasures and pains ? Who 
would return to the youth he is forever pre- 
tending to regret ? 

Such thoughts are not cheerful companions ; 
i>ut if they stand the test of application, it is 
useless to call them morbid. The pessimist 
does not contend that there is no happiness in 
life, but that, for the generality of mankind, it 
is outbalanced by trouble ; and this flinty as- 
surance is all he has to offer in place of the fas- 
cinating theory of compensation. It would 
seem as though no sane man could hesitate 
between them, if he had the choice, for one 
pleasant delusion is worth a hundred disagree- 
able facts ; but in this serious and truth-hunt- 
ing age people have forgotten the value of fic- 
tion, and, like sulky children, refuse to play 
at anything. Certainly it would be hard to 
find a more dispiriting literature than we en- 
joy at present. Scientists, indeed, are reported 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 185 

by those who have the strength of mind to fol- 
low them as being exceedingly merry and 
complacent ; but the less ponderous illumi- 
nati, to whom feebler souls turn instinctively 
for guidance, are shining just now with a se- 
vere and chastened light. "When on pleasure 
bent they are as frugal as Mrs. Gilpin, but 
they sup sorrow with a long spoon, utterly re- 
gardless of their own or their readers' diges- 
tions. Germany still rings with Heine's dis- 
cordant laughter, and France, rich in the 
poets of decadence, offers us Les Fleurs du 
Mai to wear upon our bosoms. England 
listens, sighing, while Carlyle's denunciations 
linger like muttering thunder in the air; or 
while Mr. Ruskin, " the most inspired of the 
modern prophets," vindicates his oracular 
spirit by crying, 

" Woe ! woe ! earth ! Apollo, Apollo ! " 

with the monotonous persistency of Cassandra. 
Mr. Mallock, proud to kneel at Mr. Ruskin's 
feet as " an intellectual debtor to a public 
teacher," binds us in his turn within the fine 
meshes of his exhaustless subtleties, until we 
grow light-headed rather than light-hearted 



186 BOOKS AND MEN. 

under such depressing manipulation. Mr. 
Pater, who at one time gave us to understand 
that he would teach us how to enjoy life, has, 
so far, revealed nothing but its everlasting sad- 
ness. If the old Cyrenaics were no gayer than 
their modern representatives, Aristippus of 
Cyrene might just as well have been Diogenes 
sulking in his tub, or Heraclitus adding use- 
less tears to the trickling moisture of his cave. 
Even our fiction has grown disconcertingly 
sad within the last few years, and with a new 
order of sadness, invented apparently to keep 
pace with the melancholy march of mind. The 
novelist of the past had but two courses open 
to him : either to leave Edwin and Angelina 
clasped in each other's arms, or to provide for 
one of them a picturesque and daisy-strewn 
grave. Ordinarily he chose the former alter- 
native, as being less harassing to himself, and 
more gratifying to his readers. Books that 
end badly have seldom been really popular, 
though sometimes a tragic conclusion is essen- 
tial to the artistic development of the story. 
When Tom and Maggie Tulliver go down, 
hand in hand, amid the rushing waters of the 
Floss, we feel, even through our tears, — and 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 187 

mine are fresh each time I read the page, — 
that the one possible solution of the problem 
has been reached; that only thus could the 
widely contrasting natures of brother and sis- 
ter meet in unison, and the hard-fought battle 
be gained. Such an end is not sad, it is happy 
and beautiful ; and, moreover, it is in a mea- 
sure inevitable, the climax being shadowed 
from the beginning, as in the tragedy of the 
Greeks, and the whole tale moving swiftly and 
surely to its appointed close. If we compare 
a finely chiseled piece of work like this with 
the flat, faintly colored sketches which are at 
present passing muster for novels, we feel that 
beauty of form is something not compounded 
of earthly materials only, and that neither the 
savage strength of French and Russian real- 
ism, nor the dreary monotony of German spec- 
ulative fiction, can lift us any nearer the tran- 
quil realms of art. 

Nor can we even claim that we have gained 
in cheerfulness what we have lost in sym- 
metry, for the latest device of the pessimistic 
story-writer is to marry his pair of lovers, and 
then coldly inform us that, owing to the inevi- 
table evils of life, they w r ere not particularly 



188 BOOKS AND MEN. 

happy after all. Now Lady Martin (Helen 
Faucit), that loving student and impersonator 
of Shakespeare's heroines, has expressed her 
melancholy conviction that the gentle Hero 
was but ill-mated with one so fretful and 
paltry-souled as Claudio ; and that Imogen 
the fair was doomed to an early death, the 
bitter fruit of her sad pilgrimage to Milford- 
Haven. But be this as it may, — and we 
more than fear that Lady Martin is rightly 
acquainted with the matter, — Shakespeare 
himself has whispered us no word of such ill- 
tidings, but has left us free, an' it please us, 
to dream out happier things. So, too, Doro- 
thea Brooke, wedded to Will Ladislaw, has be- 
fore her many long and weary hours of regret- 
ful self -communings ; yet, while we sigh over 
her doubtful future, we are glad, nevertheless, 
to take our last look at her smiling in her hus- 
band's arms. But when Basil Kansom, in 
The Bostonians, makes a brave fight for his 
young bride, and carries her off in triumph, 
we are not for a moment permitted to feel 
elated at his victory. We want to rejoice 
with Verena, and to congratulate her on her 
escape from Mr. Filer and the tawdry music- 



SOME ASPECTS OF PESSIMISM. 189 

hall celebrity ; but we are forced to take leave 
of her in tears, and to hear with unwilling 
ears that " these were not the last she was des- 
tined to shed." This hurts our best feelings, 
and hurts them all the more because we have 
allowed our sympathies to be excited. It re- 
minds us of that ill-natured habit of the 
Romans, who were ungrateful enough to spoil 
a conqueror's triumph by hiring somebody to 
stand in his chariot, and keep whispering in 
his ear that he was only human, after all ; and 
it speaks volumes for the stern self-restraint of 
the Roman nature that the officious truth-teller 
was not promptly kicked out in the dust. In 
the same grudging spirit, Mr. Thomas Hardy, 
after conducting one of his heroines safely 
through a great many trials, and marrying her 
at last to the husband of her choice, winds up, 
by way of wedding-bells, with the following 
consolatory reflections : " Her experience had 
been of a kind to teach her, rightly or wrong- 
ly, that the doubtful honor of a brief transit 
through a sorry world hardly called for effu- 
siveness, even when the path was suddenly 
irradiated at some half-way point by day- 
dreams rich as hers. . . . And in being forced 



190 BOOKS AND MEN 

to class herself among the fortunate, she did 
not cease to wonder at the persistence of the 
unforeseen, when the one to whom such un- 
broken tranquillity had been accorded in the 
adult stage was she whose youth had seemed 
to teach that happiness was but the occasional 
episode in a general drama of pain." " What 
should a man do but be merry ? " says Hamlet 
drearily ; and, with this reckless mirth per- 
vading even our novels, we bid fair in time to 
become as jocund as he. 




THE CAVALIER. 

"An evil reputation is light to raise, but 
heavy to bear, and very difficult to put aside. 
No Rumor which many people chatter of alto- 
gether dieth away ; she too is, after her kind, 
an immortal." So moralizes Hesiod over an 
exceedingly thankless truth, which, even in 
the primitive simplicity of the golden age, had 
forced itself upon man's unwilling convictions ; 
and while many later philosophers have given 
caustic expression to the same thought, few 
have clothed it with more delicate and agree- 
able irony. Rumor is, after her kind, an im- 
mortal. Antaeus-like, she gains new strength 
each time she is driven to the ground, and it 
is a wholesome humiliation for our very en- 
lightened minds to see how little she has suf- 
fered from centuries of analysis and research. 
Rumor still writes our histories, directs our 
diplomacy, and controls our ethics, until we 
have grown to think that this is probably what 
is meant by the vox populi, and that any 



192 BOOKS AND MEN 

absurdity credited by a great many people 
becomes in some mysterious way sacred to the 
cause of humanity, and infinitely more pre- 
cious than truth. When Wodrow, and Walk- 
er, and the author of The Cloud of Witnesses, 
were compiling their interesting narratives, 
Rumor, in the person of " ilka auld wife in 
the chimley-neuck," gave them all the infor- 
mation they desired; and this information, 
countersigned by Macaulay, has passed muster 
for history down to the present day. As a 
result, the introduction of Graham of Claver- 
house into Mr. Lang's list of English Wor- 
thies has been received with severely qualified 
approbation, and Mr. Mowbray Morris has 
written the biography of a great soldier in the 
cautious tone of a lawyer pleading for a crimi- 
nal at the bar. 

If ever the words of Hesiod stood in need of 
an accurate illustration, it has been furnished 
by the memory of Claverhouse ; for his evil 
reputation was not only raised with astonish- 
ing facility, but it has never been put aside at 
all. In fact, it seems to have been a matter 
of pride in the griin-visaged Scottish saints to 
believe that their departed brethren were, one 



THE CAVALIER. 193 

and all, the immediate victims of his wrath ; 
and to hint that they might perhaps have 
fallen by any meaner hand was, as Aytoun 
wittily expressed it, " an insult to martyrol- 
ogy." The terror inspired by his inflexible 
severity gave zest to their lurid denunciations, 
and their liveliest efforts of imagination were 
devoted to conjuring up in his behalf some 
fresh device of evil. In that shameless pas- 
quinade, the Elegy, there is no species of wick- 
edness that is not freely charged, in most vile 
language, to the account of every Jacobite in 
the land, from the royal house of Stuart down 
to its humblest supporter; yet even amid such 
goodly company, Claverhouse stands preemi- 
nent, and is the recipient of its choicest flowers 
of speech. 

" He to Rome's cause most firmly stood, 
And drunken was with, the saints' blood. 
He rifled houses, and did plunder 
In moor and dale many a hunder ; 
He all the shires in south and west 
With blood and rapine sore opprest." 

It is needless to say that Claverhouse, 
though he served a Catholic master, had about 
as much affinity for the Church of Rome as 
the great Gustavus himself, and that the ex- 



194 BOOKS AND MEN. 

tent of his shortcomings in this direction lay- 
in his protesting against the insults offered by 
a Selkirk preacher to King James through the 
easy medium of his religion. 

Now it is only natural that the Covenanters, 
who feared and hated Dundee, should have 
found infinite comfort in believing that he was 
under the direct protection of Satan. In those 
days of lively faith, the charge was by no 
means an uncommon one, and the dark dis- 
tinction was shared by any number of his 
compatriots. On the death of Sir Robert 
Grierson of Lag, the devil, who had waited 
long for his prey, manifested his sense of satis- 
faction by providing an elaborate funeral cor- 
tege, which came over the sea at midnight, 
with nodding plumes and sable horses, to carry 
off in ostentatious splendor the soul of this 
much-honored guest. Prince Rupert was be- 
lieved by the Roundheads to owe his immunity 
from danger to the same diabolic agency which 
made Claverhouse proof against leaden bul- 
lets; and his white dog, Boy, was regarded 
with as much awe as was Dundee's famous 
black charger, the gift of the evil one himself. 
As a fact, Boy was not altogether unworthy of 



THE CAVALIER. 195 

his reputation, for he could fight almost as 
well as his master, though unluckily without 
sharing in his advantages ; for the poor brute 
was shot at Marston Moor, in the very act of 
pulling down a rebel. Even the clergy, it 
would seem, were not wholly averse to Satan's 
valuable patronage ; for Wodrow — to whose 
claims as an historian Mr. Morris is strangely 
lenient — tells us gravely how the unfortunate 
Archbishop of St. Andrew's cowered trembling 
in the Privy Council, when Janet Douglas, 
then on trial for witchcraft, made bold to re- 
mind him of the " meikle black devil " who 
was closeted with him the last Saturday at 
midnight. 

But even our delighted appreciation of these 
very interesting and characteristic legends 
cannot altogether blind us to the dubious 
quality of history based upon such testimony, 
and it is a little startling to see that, as years 
rolled by, the impression they created remained 
practically undimmed. Colonel Fergusson, 
in the preface to his delightful volume on The 
Laird of Lag, confesses that in his youth it 
was still a favorite Halloween game to dress 
up some enterprising member of the household 



196 



BOOKS AND MEN. 



as a hideous beast with a preternaturally long 
nose, — made, in fact, of a saucepan handle ; 
and that this creature, who went prowling 
stealthily around the dim halls and firelit 
kitchen, frightening the children into shrieks 
of terror, was supposed to represent the stout 
old cavalier searching for his ancient foes the 
Covenanters. Lag's memory appears to have 
been given up by universal consent to every 
species of opprobrium, and his misdeeds have 
so far found no apologist, unless, indeed, 
Macaulay may count as one, when he grace- 
fully transfers part of them to Claverhouse's 
shoulders. Mr. Morris coldly mentions Sir 
Robert Grierson as " coarse, cruel, and brutal 
beyond even the license of those days ; " Col- 
onel Fergusson is far too clever to weaken the 
dramatic force of his book by hinting that his 
hero was not a great deal worse than other 
men ; and Scott, in that inimitable romance, 
Wandering Willie's Tale, has thrown a per- 
fect glamour of wickedness around the old 
laird's name. Bat in truth, when we come to 
search for sober proven facts ; when we dis- 
card — reluctantly, indeed, but under compul- 
sion — the spiked barrel in which he was 



THE CAVALIER. 197 

pleased to roll the Covenanters, in Carthagin- 
ian fashion, down the Scottish hills ; and the 
iron hook in his cellar, from which it was his 
playful fancy to depend them ; and the wine 
which turned to clotted blood ere it touched 
his lips ; and the active copartnership of Satan 
in his private affairs, — when we lay aside 
these picturesque traditions, there is little left 
save a charge, not altogether uncommon, of 
indecorum in his cups, the ever-vexed question 
of the Wigtown martyrs, and a few rebels 
who were shot, like John Bell, after scant 
trial, but who, Heaven knows, would have 
gained cold comfort by having their cases laid 
before the council. On the other hand, it 
might be worth while to mention that Lag 
was brave, honest, not rapacious, and, above 
all, true to his colors when the tide had turned, 
and he was left alone in his old age to suf- 
fer imprisonment and disgrace. 

But if the memory of a minor actor in these 
dark scenes has come down to us so artistically 
embellished, what may we not expect of one 
who played a leading part through the whole 
stormy drama ? " The chief of this Tophet 
on earth," is the temperate phrase applied to 



198 



BOOKS AND MEN. 



Claverhouse by Macaulay, and it sufficiently 
illustrates the position popularly assigned him 
by his foes. Rumor asserted in his behalf her 
triumphant immortality, and crystallized into 
tradition every floating charge urged by the 
Covenanters against his fame. So potent and 
far-reaching was her voice that it became in 
time a virtuous necessity to echo it ; and we 
actually find Southey writing to Scott in 1807, 
and regretting that Wordsworth should have 
thought fit to introduce the Viscount of Dun- 
dee into the sonnet on Killiecrankie, without 
any apparent censure of his conduct. Scott, 
who took a somewhat easier view of poetical 
obligations, and who probably thought that 
Killiecrankie was hardly the fitting spot on 
which to recall Dundee's shortcomings, wrote 
back very plainly that he thought there had 
been censure enough already ; and nine years 
later he startled the good people of Edin- 
burgh, on his own account, by the publica- 
tion of that eminently heterodox novel, Old 
Mortality. Lockwood tells us that the theme 
was suggested to Sir Walter by his friend Mr. 
Joseph Train, who, when visiting at Abbots- 
ford, was much struck by the solitary picture 



THE CAVALIER. 199 

in the poet's library, a portrait of Graham of 
Claverhouse. 

" He expressed the surprise with which 
every one who had known Dundee only in the 
pages of the Presbyterian annalists must see 
for the first time that beautiful and melan- 
choly visage, worthy of the most pathetic 
dreams of romance. Scott replied that no 
character had been so foully traduced as the 
Viscount of Dundee ; that, thanks to Wodrow, 
Cruikshanks, and such chroniclers, he who 
was every inch a soldier and a gentleman still 
passed among the Scottish vulgar for a ruffian 
desperado, who rode a goblin horse, was proof 
against shot, and in league with the devil. 

" ' Might he not,' said Train, ' be made, in 
good hands, the hero of a national romance, as 
interesting as any about either Wallace or 
Prince Charlie ? ' 

" ' He might,' said Scott, ' but your western 
zealots would require to be faithfully por- 
trayed in order to bring him out with the 
right effect.' " 

Train then described to Sir Walter the sin- 
gular character of Old Mortality, and the re- 
sult was that incomparable tale which took 



200 



BOOKS AND MEN. 



the English reading world by storm, and pro- 
voked in Scotland a curious fever of excite- 
ment, indignation, and applause. The most 
vigorous protest against its laxity came from 
Thomas MacCrie, one of the numerous biog- 
raphers of John Knox, " who considered the 
representation of the Covenanters in the story 
of Old Mortality as so unfair as to demand, at 
his hands, a very serious rebuke." This re- 
buke was administered at some length in a 
series of papers published in the Edinburgh 
Christian Instructor. Scott, the " Black Hus- 
sar of Literature," replied with much zest and 
spirit in the Quarterly Review ; cudgels were 
taken up on both sides, and the war went 
briskly on, until Jeffrey the Great in some 
measure silenced the controversy by giving it 
as his ultimatum that the treatment of an his- 
torical character in a work of pure fiction was a 
matter of very trifling significance. It is not 
without interest that we see the same queru- 
lous virtue that winced under Sir Walter's 
frank enthusiasm for Claverhouse uttering its 
protest to-day against the more chilly and 
scrupulous vindications of Mr. Morris's biog- 
raphy. "An apology for the crimes of a hired 



THE CAVALIER. 201 

butcher," one critic angrily calls the sober lit- 
tle volume, forgetting in his heat that the term 
"hired butcher," though most scathing in sound, 
is equally applicable to any soldier, from the 
highest to the lowest, who is paid by his gov- 
ernment to kill his fellow-men. War is a 
rough trade, and if we choose to call names, 
it is as easy any time to say " butcher " as 
"hero." Stronger words have not been lack- 
ing to vilify Dundee, and many of these choice 
anathemas belong, one fears, to Luther's cata- 
logue of " downright, infamous, scandalous 
lies." Their freshness, however, is as amazing 
as their ubiquity, and they confront us every 
now and then in the most forlorn nooks and 
crannies of literature. Not very long ago I 
was shut up for half an hour in a boarding- 
house parlor, in company with a solitary little 
book entitled Scheyichbi and the Strand, or 
Early Days along the Delaware. Its name 
proved to be the only really attractive thing 
about it, and I was speculating drearily as to 
whether Charles Lamb himself could have ex- 
tracted any amusement from its pages, when 
suddenly my eye lighted on a sentence that 
read like an old familiar friend : " The cru- 



202 



BOOKS AND MEN. 



elty, the brutality, the mad, exterminating 
barbarity of Claverhouse, and Lauderdale, 
and Jeffreys, the minions of episcopacy and 
the king." There it stood, venerably correct 
in sentiment, with a strangely new location 
and surroundings. It is hard enough, surely, 
to see Claverhouse pilloried side by side with 
the brute Jeffreys ; but to meet him on the 
banks of the Delaware is like encountering 
Ezzelin Romano on Fifth Avenue, or Julian 
the Apostate upon Boston Common. 

Much of this universal harmony of abuse 
may be fairly charged to Macaulay, for it is 
he who in a few strongly written passages has 
presented to the general reader that remark- 
able compendium of wickedness commonly 
known as Dundee. " Rapacious and profane, 
of violent temper and obdurate heart," is the 
great historian's description of a man who 
sought but modest wealth, who never swore, 
and whose imperturbable gentleness of manner 
was more appalling in its way than the fiercest 
transports of rage. Under Macaulay's hands 
Claverhouse exhibits a degree of ubiquity and 
mutability that might well require some su- 
pernatural basis to sustain it. He supports as 



THE CAVALIER. 203 

many characters as Saladin in the Talisman ; 
appearing now as his brother David Graham, 
in order to witness the trial of the Wigtown 
martyrs, and now as his distant kinsman, Pat- 
rick Graham, when it becomes expedient to 
figure as a dramatic feature of Argyle's execu- 
tion. He changes at will into Sir Robert Gri- 
erson, and is thus made responsible for that 
highly curious game which Wodrow and 
Howie impute to Lag's troopers, and which 
Macaulay describes with as much gravity as 
if it were the sacking and pillage of some 
doomed Roman town. It is hard to under- 
stand the precise degree of pleasure embodied 
in calling one's self Apollyon and one's neigh- 
bor Beelzebub ; it is harder still to be properly 
impressed with the tremendous significance 
of the deed. I have known a bevy of school- 
girls, who, after an exhaustive course of Para- 
dise Lost, were so deeply imbued with the 
sombre glories of the satanic court that they 
assumed the names of its inhabitants ; and, 
for the remainder of that term, even the myste- 
rious little notes that form so important an el- 
ement of boarding-school life began — heedless 
of grammar — with "Chere Moloch," and 



204 BOOKS AND MEN. 

ended effusively with " Your ever-devoted Be- 
lial." It is quite possible that these children 
thought and hoped they were doing something 
desperately wicked, only they lacked a histo- 
rian to chronicle their guilt. It is equally cer- 
tain that Lag's drunken troopers, if they ever 
did divert themselves in the unbecoming man- 
ner ascribed to them, might have been more 
profitably, and, it would seem, more agreeably, 
employed. But, of one thing, at least, we may 
feel tolerably confident. The pastime would 
have found scant favor in the eyes of Claver- 
house, who was a man of little imagination, of 
stern discipline, and of fastidiously decorous 
habits. Why, even Wandering Willie does 
him this much justice, when he describes him 
as alone amid the lost souls, isolated in his 
contemptuous pride from their feasts and 
dreadful merriment : " And there sat Claver- 
house, as beautiful as when he lived, with his 
long, dark, curled locks streaming down over 
his laced buff-coat, and his left hand always 
on his right spule-blade, to hide the wound that 
the silver bullet had made. He sat apart 
from them all, and looked at them with a mel- 
ancholy, haughty countenance." If history 



THE CAVALIER. 205 

be, as Napoleon asserts, nothing but fiction 
agreed upon, let us go straight to the fountain- 
head, and enjoy our draught of romance un- 
spoiled by any dubious taint of veracity. 

Mr. Walter Bagehot, that most keen and 
tolerant of critics, has pointed out to us with 
his customary acumen that Macaulay never 
appreciated in the highest degree either of the 
two great parties — the Puritans and the Cav- 
aliers — who through so many stirring events 
embodied all the life and color of English his- 
tory. In regard to the former, it may be 
safely said that whatever slights they have 
received at the hands of other historians have 
been amply atoned for by Carlyle. He has 
thrown the whole weight of his powerful per- 
sonality into their scale, and has fairly fright- 
ened us into that earnestness of mind which is 
requisite for a due appreciation of their merits. 
His fine scorn for the pleasant vices which 
ensnare humanity extended itself occasionally 
to things which are pleasant without being 
vicious ; and under his leadership we hardly 
venture to hint at a certain sneaking prefer- 
ence for the gayer side of life. When Hazlitt, 
with a shameless audacity rare among English- 



206 BOOKS AND MEN. 

men, disencumbers himself lightly of his con- 
science, and apostrophizes the reign of Charles 
II. as that "happy, thoughtless age, when 
king and nobles led purely ornamental lives," 
we feel our flesh chilled at such a candid 
avowal of volatility. Surely Hazlitt must have 
understood that it is precisely the fatal pic- 
turesqueness of that period to which we, as 
moralists, so strenuously object. The courts 
of the first two Hanoverians were but little 
better or purer, but they were at least uglier, 
and we can afford to look with some leniency 
upon their short-comings. His sacred majesty 
George II. was hardly, save in the charitable 
eyes of Bishop Porteus, a shining example of 
rectitude ; but let us rejoice that it never lay 
in the power of any human being to hint that 
he was in the smallest degree ornamental. 

The Puritan, then, has been wafted into 
universal esteem by the breath of his great 
eulogist ; but the Cavalier still waits for his 
historian. Poets and painters and romancers 
have indeed loved to linger over this warm, 
impetuous life, so rich in vigor and beauty, so 
full to the brim of a hardy adventurous joy. 
Here, they seem to say, far more than in 



THE CAVALIER. 207 

ancient Greece, may be realized the throbbing 
intensity of an unreflecting happiness. For 
the Greek drank deeply of the cup of know- 
ledge, and its bitterness turned his laughter 
into tears ; the Cavalier looked straight into 
the sunlight with clear, joyous eyes, and 
troubled himself not at all with the disheart- 
ening problems of humanity. How could a 
mind like Macaulay's, logical, disciplined, and 
gravely intolerant, sympathize for a moment 
with this utterly irresponsible buoyancy ! 
How was he, of all men, to understand this 
careless zest for the old feast of life, this un- 
reasoning loyalty to an indifferent sovereign, 
this passionate devotion to a church and easy 
disregard of her precepts, this magnificent 
wanton courage, this gay prodigality of enjoy- 
ment ! It was his loss, no less than ours, that, 
in turning over the pages of the past, he should 
miss half of their beauty and their pathos ; for 
History, that calumniated muse, whose sworn 
votaries do her little honor, has illuminated 
every inch of her parchment with a strong, 
generous hand, and does not mean that we 
should contemptuously ignore the smallest 
fragment of her work. The superb charge of 



208 



BOOKS AND MEN. 



Rupert's cavalry ; that impetuous rush to 
battle, before which no mortal ranks might 
stand unbroken ; the little group of heart-sick 
Cavaliers who turned at sunset from the lost 
field of Marston Moor, and beheld their 
queen's white standard floating over the ene- 
my's ranks ; the scaffolds of Montrose and 
King Charles ; the more glorious death of 
Claverhouse, pressing the blood-stained grass, 
and listening for the last time to the far-off 
cries of victory ; Sidney Godolphin flinging 
away his life, with all its abundant promise 
and whispered hopes of fame ; beautiful Fran- 
cis Villiers lying stabbed to the heart in Sur- 
biton lane, with his fair boyish face turned to 
the reddening sky, — these and many other 
pictures History has painted for us on her 
scroll, bidding us forget for a moment our for- 
midable theories and strenuous partisanship, 
and suffer our hearts to be simply and whole- 
somely stirred by the brave lives and braver 
deaths of our mistaken brother men. 

" Every matter," observes Epictetus, " has 
two handles by which it may be grasped ; " and 
the Cavalier is no exception to the rule. We 
may, if we choose, regard him from a purely 



THE CAVALIER. 209 

moral point of view, as a lamentably dissolute 
and profligate courtier ; or from a purely pic- 
turesque point of view, as a gallant and loyal 
soldier ; or we may, if we are wise, take him 
as he stands, making room for him cheerfully 
as a fellow-creature, and not vexing our souls 
too deeply over his brilliant divergence from 
our present standard. It is like a breath of 
fresh air blown from a roughening sea to feel, 
even at this distance of time, that strong 
young life beating joyously and eagerly against 
the barriers of the past ; to see those curled 
and scented aristocrats who, like the " dandies 
of the Crimea," could fight as well as dance, 
facing pleasure and death, the ball-room and 
the battle-field, with the same smiling front, 
the same unflagging enthusiasm. No wonder 
that Mr. Bagehot, analyzing with friendly 
sympathy the strength and weakness of the 
Cavalier, should find himself somewhat out of 
temper with an historian's insensibility to vir- 
tues so primitive and recognizable in a not too 
merry world. 

" The greatness of this character is not in 
Macaulay's way, and its faults are. Its license 
affronts him, its riot alienates him. He is for- 



210 BOOKS AND MEN. 

ever contrasting the dissoluteness of Prince 
Rupert's horse with the restraint of Crom- 
well's pikemen. A deep, enjoying nature 
finds in him no sympathy. He has no tears 
for that warm life, no tenderness for that 
extinct mirth. The ignorance of the Cava- 
liers, too, moves his wrath : ' They were igno- 
rant of what every schoolgirl knows.' Their 
loyalty to their sovereign is the devotion of the 
Egyptians to the god Apis : ' They selected a 
calf to adore.' Their non-resistance offends 
the philosopher ; their license is commented 
on in the tone of a precisian. Their indeco- 
rum does not suit the dignity of the narrator. 
Their rich, free nature is unappreciated ; the 
tingling intensity of their joy is unnoticed. In 
a word, there is something of the schoolboy 
about the Cavalier; there is somewhat of a 
schoolmaster about the historian." 1 

That the gay gentlemen who glittered in 
the courts of the Stuarts were enviably igno- 
rant of much that,for some inscrutable reason, 
we feel ourselves obliged to know to-day may 
be safely granted, and scored at once to the 
account of their good fortune. It is probable 

1 Literary Studies, vol. ii. 



THE CAVALIER. 211 

that they had only the vaguest notions about 
Sesostris, and could not have defined an hy- 
pothesis of homophones with any reasonable 
degree of accuracy. But they were possessed, 
nevertheless, of a certain information of their 
own, not garnered from books, and not always 
attainable to their critics. They knew life in 
its varying phases, from the delicious trifling 
of a polished and witty society to the stern 
realities of the camp and battle-field. They 
knew the world, women, and song, three things 
as pleasant and as profitable in their way as 
Hebrew, Euclid, and political economy. They 
knew how to live gracefully, to fight stoutly, 
and to die honorably; and how to extract 
from the gray routine of existence a wonder- 
fully distinct flavor of novelty and enjoyment. 
There were among them, as among the Puri- 
tans, true lovers, faithful husbands, and tender 
fathers ; and the indiscriminate charge of dis- 
soluteness on the one side, like the indiscrimi- 
nate charge of hypocrisy on the other, is a 
cheap expression of our individual intolerance. 
The history of the Cavalier closes with 
Killiecrankie. The waning prestige of a once 
powerful influence concentrated itself in Cla- 



212 BOOKS AND MEN. 

verhouse, the latest and strongest figure on its 
canvas, the accepted type of its most brilliant 
and defiant qualities. Readers of old-fash- 
ioned novels may remember a lachrymose 
story, in two closely printed volumes, which 
enjoyed an amazing popularity some twenty 
years ago, and which was called The Last of 
the Cavaliers. It had for its hero a perfectly 
impossible combination of virtues, a cross be- 
tween the Chevalier Bayard and the Admir- 
able Crichton, labeled Dundee, and warranted 
proof against all the faults and foibles of 
humanity. This automaton, who moved in a 
rarefied atmosphere through the whole dreary 
tale, performing noble deeds and uttering vir- 
tuous sentiments with monotonous persistency, 
embodied, we may presume, the author's con- 
ception of a character not generally credited 
with such superfluous excellence. It was a 
fine specimen of imaginative treatment, and 
not wholly unlike some very popular historic 
methods by which similar results are reached 
to-day. Quite recently, a despairing English 
critic, with an ungratified taste for realities, 
complained somewhat savagely that " a more 
intolerable embodiment of unrelieved excel- 



THE CAVALIER. 213 

lence and monotonous success than the hero 
of the pious Gladstonian's worship was never 
moulded out of plaster of Paris." He was 
willing enough to yield his full share of admi- 
ration, but he wanted to see the real, human, 
interesting Gladstone back of all this conven- 
tional and disheartening mock-heroism ; and, 
in the same spirit, we would like sometimes to 
see the real Claverhouse back of all the dra- 
matic accessories in which he has been so lib- 
erally disguised. 

But where, save perhaps in the ever-delight- 
ful pages of Old Mortality, shall we derive 
any moderate gratification from our search? 
Friends are apt to be as ill advised as foes, 
and Dundee's eulogists, from Napier to 
Aytoun, have been distinguished rather for 
the excellence of their intentions than for any 
great felicity of execution. The " lion-hearted 
warrior," for whom Aytoun flings wide the 
gates of Athol, might be Coeur-de-Lion him- 
self, or Marshal Ney, or Stonewall Jackson, 
or any other brave fighter. There is no dis- 
tinctive flavor of the Graeme in the somewhat 
long-winded hero, with his " falcon eye," and 
his " war-horse black as night," and his trite 



214 BOOKS AND MEN. 

commonplaces about foreign gold and High- 
land honor. On the other hand, the verdict 
of the disaffected may be summed up in the 
extraordinary lines with which Macaulay 
closes his account of Killiecrankie, and of 
Dundee's brief, glorious struggle for his king : 
" During the last three months of his life he 
had proved himself a great warrior and poli- 
tician, and his name is therefore mentioned 
with respect by that large class of persons who 
think that there is no excess of wickedness for 
which courage and ability do not atone." No 
excess of wickedness ! One wonders what 
more could be said if we were discussing 
Tiberius or Caligula, or if colder words were 
ever used to chill a soldier's fame. Mr. Mow- 
bray Morris, the latest historian in the field, 
seems divided between a natural desire to sift 
the evidence for all this wickedness and a 
polite disinclination to say anything rude dur- 
ing the process, " a common impertinence of 
the day," in which he declares he has no wish 
to join. This is exceedingly pleasant and 
courteous, though hardly of primary impor- 
tance ; for a biographer's sole duty is, after 
all, to the subject of his biography, and not 



\ 



THE CAVALIER. 215 

to Macaulay, who can hold his own easily- 
enough without any assistance whatever. 
When Sir James Stephens published, some 
years ago, his very earnest and accurate vindi- 
cation of Sir Elijah Impey from the charges 
so lavishly brought against him in that match- 
less essay on Warren Hastings, he expressed 
at the same time his serene conviction that the 
great world would go on reading the essay and 
believing the charges just the same, — a new 
rendering of " Magna est Veritas et praevale- 
bit," which brings it very near to Hesiod's 
primitive experience. 

As for Mr. Morris's book, it is a carefully 
dispassionate study of a wild and stormy time, 
with a gray shadow of Claverhouse flitting 
faintly through it. In his wholesome dislike 
for the easy confidence with which historians 
assume to know everything, its author has 
touched the opposite extreme, and manifests 
such conscientious indecision as to the correct- 
ness of every document he quotes, that our 
heads fairly swim with accumulated uncer- 
tainties. This method of narration has one 
distinct advantage, — it cannot lead us far 
into error ; but neither can it carry us for- 



216 BOOKS AND MEN. 

ward impetuously with the mighty rush of 
great events, and make us feel in our hearts 
the real and vital qualities of history. Mr. 
Morris proves very clearly and succinctly that 
Claverhouse has been, to use his temperate 
expression, " harshly judged," and that much 
of the cruelty assigned to him may be easily 
and cheaply refuted. He does full justice to 
the scrupulous decorum of his hero's private 
life, and to the wonderful skill with which, 
after James's flight, he roused and held 
together the turbulent Highland clans, impress- 
ing even these rugged spirits with the charm 
and force of his vigorous personality. In the 
field Claverhouse lived like the meanest of his 
men ; sharing their poor food and hard lodg- 
ings, marching by their side through the bitter 
winter weather, and astonishing these hardy 
mountaineers by a power of physical endur- 
ance fully equal to their own. The memory 
of his brilliant courage, of his gracious tact, 
even of his rare personal beauty, dwelt with 
them for generations, and found passionate 
expression in that cry wrung from the sore 
heart of the old chieftain at Culloden, M Oh, 
for one hour of Dundee ! " 



THE CAVALIER. 217 

But in the earlier portions of Mr. Morris's 
narrative, in the scenes at Drumclog and Both- 
well Bridge, at Ayrshire and Clydesdale, we 
confess that we look in vain for the Claver- 
house of our fancy. Can it be that this ener- 
getic, modest, and rather estimable young sol- 
dier, distinguished, apparently, for nothing 
save prompt and accurate obedience to his 
orders, is the man who, in a few short years, 
made himself so feared and hated that it be- 
came necessary to credit him with the direct 
patronage of Satan ? One is tempted to quote 
Mr. Swinburne's pregnant lines concerning 
another enigmatic character of Scottish his- 
tory : — 

" Some faults the gods will give to fetter 
Man's highest intent, 
But surely you were something hetter 
Than innocent." 

Of the real Dundee we catch only flying 
glimpses here and there, — on his wedding 
night, for instance, when he is off and away 
after the now daring rebels, leaving his bride 
of an hour to weep his absence, and listen with 
what patience she might to her mother's assid- 
uous reproaches. " I shall be revenged some 



218 BOOKS AND MEN. 

time or other of the unseasonable trouble these 
dogs give me," grumbles the young husband 
with pardonable irritation. "They might 
have let Tuesday pass." It is the real Dun- 
dee, likewise, who, in the gray of early morn- 
ing, rides briskly out of Edinburgh in scant 
time to save his neck, scrambles up the castle 
rock for a last farewell to Gordon, and is off 
to the north to raise the standard of King 
James, " wherever the spirit of Montrose shall 
direct me." In vain Hamilton and the con- 
vention send word imperatively, " Dilly, dilly, 
dilly, come and be killed." The wily bird 
declines the invitation, and has been censured 
with some asperity for his unpatriotic reluc- 
tance to comply. For one short week of rest 
he lingers at Dudhope, where his wife is await- 
ing her confinement, and then flies further 
northward to Glen Ogilvy, whither a regiment 
is quickly sent to apprehend him. There is a 
reward of twenty thousand pounds sterling on 
his head, but he who thinks to win it must 
move, like Hodr, with his feet shod in silence. 
By the time Livingstone and his dragoons 
reach Glamis, Dundee is far in the Plighlands, 
and henceforth all the fast-darkening hopes of 



THE CAVALIER. 219 

the loyalists are centred in him alone. For 
him remain thirteen months of incredible hard- 
ships and anxiety, a single stolen visit to his 
wife and infant son, heart-sick appeals to 
James for some recognition of the desperate 
efforts made in his behalf, a brilliant irregu- 
lar campaign, a last decisive victory, and a 
soldier's death. " It is the less matter for me, 
seeing the day goes well for my master," he 
answers simply, when told of his mortal hurt ; 
and in this unfaltering loyalty we read the 
life-long lesson of the Cavalier. If, as a recent 
poet tells us, the memory of Nero be not 
wholly vile, because one human being was 
found to weep for him, surely the memory of 
James Stuart may be forgiven much because 
of this faithful service. It is hard to under- 
stand it now. 

" In God's name, then, what plague befell us, 
To fight for such a thing ? ' ' 

is our modern way of looking at the problem ; 
but the mental processes of the Cavalier were 
less inquisitorial and analytic. "I am no 
politician, and I do not care about nice distinc- 
tions," says Major Bellenden bluntly, when 
requested to consider the insurgents' side of 



220 BOOKS AND MEN, 

the case. " My sword is the king's, and when 
he commands, I draw it in his service." 

As for that other and better known Claver- 
house, the determined foe of the Covenant, 
the unrelenting and merciless punisher of a 
disobedient peasantry, he, too, is best taken as 
he stands ; shorn, indeed, of Wodrow's extrav- 
agant embellishments, but equally free from 
the delicate gloss of a too liberal absolution. 
He was a soldier acting under the stringent 
orders of an angry government, and he carried 
out the harsh measures entrusted to him with 
a stern and impartial severity. Those were 
turbulent times, and the wild western Whigs 
had given decisive proof on more than one 
occasion that they were ill disposed to figure 
as mere passive martyrs to their cause. 

" For treason, d' ye see, 
Was to them a dish of tea, 
And murder, bread and butter." 

They were stout fighters, too, taking as kindly 
to their carnal as to their spiritual weapons, 
and a warfare against them was as ingloriously 
dangerous as the melancholy skirmishes of our 
own army with the Indians, who, it would 
seem, were driven to the war-path by a some- 



THE CAVALIER. 221 

what similar mode of treatment. There is not 
the slightest evidence, however, that Claver- 
house was averse either to the danger or the 
cruelty of the work he was given to do. Re- 
ligious toleration was then an unknown quan- 
tity. The Church of England and her Pres- 
byterian neighbor persecuted each other with 
friendly assiduity, while Rome was more than 
willing, should an opportunity offer, to lay a 
chastening hand on both. If there were any 
new-fangled notions in the air about private 
judgment and the rights of conscience, Claver- 
house was the last man in England to have 
been a pioneer in such a movement. He was 
passionately attached to his church, unreserv- 
edly loyal to his king, and as indifferent as 
Hamlet to his own life and the lives of other 
people. It is strange to hear Mr. Morris ex- 
cuse him for his share in the death of the lad 
Hyslop, by urging in his behalf a Pilate-like 
disinclination to quarrel with a powerful ally, 
and risk a censure from court. Never was 
there a man who brooked opposition as impa- 
tiently, when he felt that his interests or his 
principles were at stake ; but it is to be feared 
that the shooting of a Covenanter more or less 



222 BOOKS AND MEN 

was hardly, in his eyes, a matter of vital im- 
portance. This attitude of unconcern is amply 
illustrated in the letter written by Claverhouse 
to Queensberry after the execution of John 
Brown, "the Christian carrier," for the sole 
crime of absenting himself from the public 
worship of the Episcopalians, says Macaulay ; 
for outlawry and resetting of rebels, hint less 
impassioned historians. Be this as it may, 
however, John Brown was shot in the Plough- 
lands ; and his nephew, seeing the soldiers' 
muskets leveled next at him, consented, on the 
promise of being recommended for mercy, to 
make M an ingenuous confession," and give 
evidence against his uncle's associates. Ac- 
cordingly, we find Claverhouse detailing these 
facts to Queensberry, and adding in the most 
purely neutral spirit, — 

" I have acquitted myself when I have told 
your Grace the case. He [the nephew] has 
been but a month or two with his halbert ; and 
if your Grace thinks he deserves no mercy, 
justice will pass on him; for I, having no 
commission of justiciary myself, have delivered 
him up to the lieutenant-general, to be disposed 
of as he pleases." 



TEE CAVALIER. 223 

Here, at least, is a sufficiently candid expo- 
sition of Claverhouse's habitual temper. He 
was, in no sense of the word, bloodthirsty. The 
test oath was not of his contriving ; the pen- 
alty for its refusal was not of his appointing. 
He was willing enough to give his prisoner the 
promised chance for life ; but as for any real 
solicitude in the matter, you might as well ex- 
pect Hamlet to be solicitous because, by an 
awkward misapprehension, a foolish and inno- 
cent old man has been stabbed like a rat 
behind the arras. 

When Plutarch was asked why he did not 
oftener select virtuous characters to write 
about, he intimated that he found the sinners 
more interesting; and while his judgment is 
to be deprecated, it can hardly be belied. We 
revere Marcus Aurelius, but we delight in 
Caesar; we admire Sir Robert Peel, but we 
enjoy Richelieu ; we praise Wellington, but 
we never weary of Napoleon. " Our being," 
says Montaigne, " is cemented with sickly 
qualities ; and whoever should divest man of 
the seeds of those qualities would destroy the 
fundamental conditions of human life." It is 
idle to look to Claverhouse for precisely the 



224 BOOKS AND MEN. 

virtues which we most esteem in John How- 
ard ; but we need not, on that account, turn 
our eyes reproachfully from one of the most 
striking and characteristic figures in English 
history. He was not merely a picturesque 
feature of his cause, like Rupert of the Rhine, 
nor a martyr to its fallen hopes, like the Mar- 
quis of Montrose ; he was its single chance, 
and, with his death, it died. In versatility and 
daring, in diplomatic shrewdness and military 
acumen, he far outranked any soldier of his 
day. " The charm of an engaging person- 
ality," says a recent critic, "belongs to Mon- 
trose, and the pity of his death deepens the 
romance of his life ; but the strong man was 
Dundee." 



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